By KENNETH R. FLETCHER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS (November 23, 2007) - Wildlife officials expect the deer kill to about average in the firearm season that kicks off Saturday, traditionally one of the busiest hunting weekends of the year.
Bow and muzzleloader seasons earlier this year were down 19 percent from last year for a variety of reasons, but Brian Eyler, deer project leader at the Department of Natural Resources, said he expects that to turn around in the Nov. 24 to Dec. 8 firearm season.
That's already happening, some hunters reported.
The season "started out a little bit slower than average but looks to be pretty good," said Randy Roof of Chesapeake Outdoors on Kent Island. "There have been a lot of pretty good deer pictures being brought in."
The early-season declines were due in part to unseasonably warm fall weather that kept hunters and deer from crossing paths.
"The deer don't move as much during the day and hunters don't like to move when it's 90 degrees out," said Mike McWilliams, a hunter in St. Mary's County.
An above-average outbreak of hemorrhagic disease also took its toll on deer this year in parts of the state, particularly in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, Eyler said.
Roof said that while there were cases of diseased deer on the Eastern Shore earlier in the year, he said there have not been any reports of the so-called "bluetongue disease" recently.
Combine that with a favorable weather outlook and good deer numbers, and the harvest could come around in the firearm season, Eyler said.
He said that opening weekend for firearms can bring in more deer than the entire early season, especially this year, when some hunters have waited until later in the season to escape the heat.
A typical opening weekend brings in 13,000 to 14,000 deer, Eyler said. Last year, the total harvest for firearm season was 49,805 deer. Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties traditionally have high deer harvests and Eyler said he expects that will be the case again this year.
Rich Skeweris of Backbone Mountain Sport Shop in Garrett County said "it ought to be a real good season." The chance of snow in the mountains this weekend would make the deer easier to spot and track, he said.
Down in Southern Maryland they are in a very different situation, McWilliams said. The bright fall leaves are still hanging onto the trees, making it harder to see and hunt the game.
McWilliams, who butchers deer in his business, Wild Game Processors, said that reports of a good acorn crop in his area means that the deer will likely be of good quality, but late-season food supplies may dwindle due to fewer crops in the fields because of the drought.
The Department of Natural Resources recommends that people going into the forest this busy hunting weekend wear bright orange clothing.
While hunting is one of the safest sports in the country and most injuries are self-inflicted, "you don't want to dress in brown and white and go running through the woods," Eyler said.