- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

The 2004-05 hunting seasons for Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania will deliver a mixed bag of success and failure. There are promises of wonderfully productive deer outings but also woefully inadequate duck, grouse and quail hunts.

The favorite among hunters in these parts is the whitetailed deer and, fear not, there’ll be venison on hundreds of thousands of tables all along the Middle Atlantic States. For example, Virginia hunters last year shot 237,035 whitetailed deer — a 10 percent increase over the previous deer season. Maryland, a small state by comparison, every year manages to deliver somewhere around 55,000 to 60,000 deer that are converted into venison. Pennsylvania, one of the big dogs in the deer hunting category, is approaching the half-million mark during its hunting season.

Despite high deer success rates, the whitetails appear to be breeding quicker than hunters can load their guns. In most of Maryland this year, a deer hunter could — at least theoretically— kill 36 deer if he or she parlays archery, muzzleloader and modern firearms seasons.

Imagine, PETA and other wacky animal-rights groups wanting us to stop hunting altogether. If it happened, we’d have deer grazing on the Washington Monument grounds. They’re already feasting on the hosta plants and azalea shrubs in suburban shopping centers.

Near Washington, Virginia’s Loudoun and Fauquier counties rate tops, but you’ll need permission from a farmer to shoot a deer since most of the land is in private hands.

The same goes for Maryland’s Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles and St. Mary’s counties. All of them are overrun by deer, but public hunting lands are sparse and will be very busy come opening day.

Good shooting also will be had by autumnal turkey hunters. Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania probably have more wild turkeys now than they did in the 18th century. Good game management, limited hunting seasons, well-enforced bag limits and modern farming practices all combine to produce good numbers of this large bird — a true prize for hunters in mountains and piedmont, even tidewater areas.

The bad news is the stagnant, sometimes even declining number of bird species that once ruled the roost hereabouts. Quail numbers are way down, ruffed grouse populations are nowhere near what they used to be, ringnecked pheasants are in short supply and several duck species are still not up to par. This is especially true after yet another relatively poor breeding year among migratory ducks, such as the pintail, redhead, bluebills and even the popular mallard and black duck species.

You already know that the resident Canada geese are bursting at the seams, there are so many of them. Yet try to get a local landowner to give you permission to shoot enough so the states will be satisfied and it’s another story. Meanwhile, the big waterfowl continue breeding and growing in numbers.

The migratory Canadas, meanwhile, are in good enough shape that the states around these parts will let you shoot two a day in the waning days of the season. Marylanders, for example, have three seasons for migratory Canada geese, Nov.18-Nov. 26 and Dec.18-Jan.6, when only one goose a day can be shot per hunter, But from Jan.7 to 29, you can bag two of the tasty geese per day.

It gets even better for snow goose hunters who can start in October and shoot 15 geese a day with no possession limit. There’s even a late season, Feb.2 through March9 , but during the late hunt there cannot be any shooting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Among the small game species, look forward to good cottontail rabbit and squirrel hunting. In fact, the squirrel seasons should be very good in nearby states, what with a strong acorn and beechnut crop noted. Dove hunters also will fare well. A good supply of the winged wizards is seen in our region.

Among the more exotic huntable species, West Virginians will do well with their wild pigs, the European black boars, while bear hunting will be best in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Be safe, wear fluorescent orange whenever possible, and remember that if an animal-rights nut interferes with your lawful pursuit of wild game, call the cops on your cell phone. It is illegal in Maryland and Virginia to bother, interrupt, disturb or otherwise harass hunters. Don’t take the law into your own hands. Let game wardens or regular police handle it.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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