Saturday, November 29, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. | Some of the “Black Friday” shoppers flocking to malls were buying bullets, boots and hunting licenses for Maryland‘s modern-firearm deer season, which opens Saturday.

Drew Trimble, pushing a loaded shopping cart out of Dick’s Sporting Goods in Hagerstown, said hunting helps stretch his food dollars.

The 28-year-old information-technology worker from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said he and his hunting buddies got two deer in the Green Ridge State Forest during the early muzzleloader season. They hope to bring back more meat during the rifle season, which ends Dec. 13.

“It’s nice not to have to buy beef from the store since we have venison,” Mr. Trimble said.

More than 68,000 people hunt for Maryland deer, an activity that helps control the deer population while contributing more than $150 million annually to the state’s economy, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The rifle season is the most popular deer-hunting season, accounting for nearly half of the deer taken each year. DNR Deer Project Leader Brian Eyler predicted hunters will kill up to 45,000 deer during the next two weeks.

Last year, Maryland hunters killed 52,796 deer during the firearm season. That included 970 sika deer, a Japanese species found on the lower Eastern Shore that is smaller than the native white-tailed deer.

Early results suggest this year’s total deer harvest may surpass the 92,208 deer taken during all seasons in 2007-2008.

The DNR said hunters killed nearly 25,700 deer during the early bow, crossbow and muzzleloader seasons, or about 28 percent more than the 20,000 taken during the same period last year.

Peter Jayne, an associate director of the natural resources department’s Wildlife and Heritage Division, attributed the increase partly to a healthier herd.

Last year, a significant number of deer died from hemorrhagic disease, or “blue tongue,” a viral illness spread by biting midges, the department said.

“I’m glad to say that Maryland is largely free of the disease this year, and hunters are benefiting from a slight rebound in the population,” Mr. Jayne said.

Rifle hunters can legally kill up to 12 white-tailed deer in every county except Allegany and Garrett. Ten of those animals must be without antlers under a provision that encourages killing does to control the deer population, estimated at 228,000 before the 2007-2008 season.

In the two far western counties, where deer numbers may be declining, the bag limit is two — one antlered and one without antlers.

Liberal antlerless regulations have slowed or halted deer-population growth in many areas outside the D.C. and Baltimore suburbs, where hunting is inhibited by lack of hunter access to private land, the department said in its annual deer report.

Eighteen of Maryland’s 23 counties now allow Sunday hunting on private land, a practice that added about 3,700 deer to last year’s tally.

Harford County is new to Sunday hunting this year. The practice was banned in Maryland for religious reasons until 2003.

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