WASHINGTON – Maryland officials expect a record deer harvest in the two- week firearm season that begins Saturday, as the size of the state’s herd continues to explode.
Bob Beyer, associate director for the Wildlife and Heritage division of the state Department of Natural Resources, said hunters last year took 48,248 deer during the firearm season, more than half of the 84,776 deer taken during the whole year.
That number is expected to grow this year along with the herd, he said, which now tops an estimated 250,000 deer statewide.
“Every year is a new record,” Beyer said.
He said that despite an increasingly liberal deer season and larger bag limits, the herd has been growing steadily for the past 10 years, causing problems in some areas.
“In more urban areas, there are more complaints about deer and deer damage,” Beyer said.
Cpl. Rob Moroney, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said the deer population explosion is creating traffic problems in the urban areas of the state. Moroney said motor vehicle collisions involving deer skyrocket every fall, and the number of accidents has grown over the years as deer adapt to living in the urban areas.
“The only natural predator of the deer is the motor vehicle,” Moroney said.
But deer will also have to be on the lookout for orange-clad hunters, who will venture into the wilds all over the state over the next two weeks.
Deer are the most popular game species in the state. Last year, about 60 percent of the 69,400 hunters who went out for firearm season came home with a deer.
In Garrett and Allegany counties, the school systems extend the Thanksgiving holiday through Monday, although administrators there will not officially chalk it up to the deer season.
“If we tried to have school that day, we’d have a heavy absentee rate,” said Erving Fink, director of finance and human resources for Garrett County schools.
The deer season is just part of the decision to cancel school for students and teachers who hunt, said James M. Smith, personnel director for the Allegany County school system.
While Western Maryland has traditionally been a destination for deer hunters in the state, “there is a growing population of hunters who like to hunt in more suburban areas,” Beyer said. He said most hunting activity occurs on public land.
The state also hosts bow and muzzleloader seasons for deer, but Beyer said the firearms season “brings out the biggest crowds.” This year’s bow season opened Sept. 15 and will close Jan. 31. The muzzleloader season opened for three days in October and will reopen for two weeks in late December.
About 3 to 4 percent of Marylanders hunt, a lower percentage than in some surrounding states: The level in Delaware is 4 percent, in Pennsylvania it is 10 percent and in West Virginia it is 19 percent. Nationally, 7 percent of the population hunts.
But even with relatively low percentage of hunters here, hunting and gun shop owners are not complaining about business.
James Moore, owner of Moore’s Huntin’ & Fishin’ Shop Inc. in Cresaptown, said business is heavy from now through Dec. 31, thanks to the deer hunters.
Fred Russell, owner of Russell’s Gun Emporium in Washington County, agreed that this is the busiest time of year for hunting supply stores. He said he plans to join his customers in the woods this fall for what is an enjoyable — but not an easy — sport.
“You get out in the woods, you watch the sun rise – it’s beautiful,” Russell said. “Once you shoot an animal, that’s when the work begins.”