- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

Another hunting season comes into our area, and all is fine with the world.

Forgotten are gasoline stations that are out of everything except lottery tickets and overpriced bags of ice. Somehow we’ll reach our hunting destinations and be thankful to live in a country where the hunting tradition continues to be very strong, the shrill cries of a truly loony animal-rights movement notwithstanding.

As always, the whitetailed deer heads the list of large game animals that Virginians and Marylanders go after. Interest also is shown by District hunters who visit one or both of the neighboring states.

Despite concerns that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was discovered in a young buck in West Virginia, I doubt that it will dampen deer hunters’ spirits.

Virginians will “harvest” (a dumb word used by wimpy biologists) more than 225,000 whitetailed deer. Even its little neighbor, Maryland, will see around 75,000 successful deer hunters who will shoot — there’s no description more fitting — whitetailed and sika deer, filling their freezers with delectable, nutritious venison. To the north, hunters in the large state of Pennsylvania will kill more than 400,000 deer. Last year’s total was 409,328. There’s no reason to believe it will decline this season.

One of the greatest wildlife success stories in recent American history, the comeback of the wild turkey, will be responsible for driving tens of thousands of hunters into Virginia’s mountains, into the fabulous national forests named in honor of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Hundreds of thousands of other wooded acres in Virginia and Maryland will have happy turkey hunters bring home a bird that is totally delicious. If you have the time, thank dedicated game departments and the National Wild Turkey Federation for this happy phenomenon.

The outlook for turkeys is good in both states, as it is for squirrels and cottontailed rabbits but not so good for ruffed grouse, ringnecked pheasants and bobwhite quail. There should be more grouse and even the experts are a bit perplexed about its decline in numbers, but as far as pheasants and quail are concerned, blame the decrease of suitable habitat on severe population drops.

Modern farming practices have seriously reduced critically important strips of hedgerows and heretofore untouched draws and ravines where the birds could find sanctuary. Add also an increase in predators, including foxes, coyotes, hawks, even bald eagles (they don’t just hunt for fish), and it is apparent that some wildlife species are having a tough time while others thrive.

Good news comes in the waterfowl department. The evidence is provided by the Middle Atlantic states as they have increased the daily take of migratory Canada geese from one to two. Traditionally, waterfowl biologists are very conservative, so if they say it’s OK to increase the daily bag limit, you can bet your last dime that the magnificent geese are in good supply.

The same holds for a number of duck species. Even when northern nesting grounds suffer occasionally, carefully managed hunting seasons and bag limits have seen to it that wild d]ucks are available in good numbers. Even the once-threatened canvasback species has made a fine comeback, and current bag limits reflect it.

The exceptions are pintail and redhead ducks. We simply don’t see as many as we once did, but with a little luck even they will rebound.

Another species that is doing well — by some people’s standards, a little too well — is the black bear. Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have no shortages of the clever bruins. Even western Maryland shows enough of a population increase to permit a limited hunting season.

In all, it seems we’re in for a good hunting autumn and winter.

Here’s wishing you safe and successful outings. Wear plenty of fluorescent orange while hunting and you’re sure to be safe. If you practice often enough at a local shooting range, you’ll probably be successful.

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

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