It has been four years in the legislative making, but people bowhunting for deer in Garrett, Allegany and part of Washington counties will be able to carry handguns to protect themselves from bears. Although bow season will begin Sept. 5, the law does not become effective until Oct. 1. The law applies to Deer Management Region A.
The Senate bill, introduced by George Edwards, passed easily 43-2, but seemed to stall once it reached the House Judiciary Committee, finally making it to the floor on the last day of the session for a full vote where it was approved 120-9.
Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill on May 15.
“I think we finally convinced them (the committee) that it was the right thing to do,” Edwards said. “It was ridiculous that you could carry a pistol during rifle season, but not during bow season. Besides, 30-some states already allow bowhunters to carry.”
Both Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel, who introduced the House version of the bill, thanked Delegate Kevin Kelly, a member of the Judiciary Committee, for his role in getting the legislation to the House floor.
“This wasn’t a gun bill, it was a safety bill,” said Jerry Zembower, president of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association. “When you have bears climbing trees to get to your seat in a ladder stand something has to be done to protect the hunter.”
Beitzel said he encourages bowhunters who will carry handguns to use the newfound privilege ethically. “Those handguns are not to be used to shoot deer. Hunters need to make sure they are in a real self-defense situation before shooting at a bear.”
Beitzel’s words were similar to those of Maryland Natural Resources Police Capt. David Larsen.
“We encourage hunters not to be tempted to engage in unethical hunting practices,” Larsen said.
Larsen believes, too, that the presence of handguns in this new setting must be respected from the standpoint of human injury or death. “We don’t want to see an increase in accidents related to the carrying of the handguns,” he said.
The new law does not detail the caliber of handguns that may be carried and Larsen said that issue will not be addressed any further.
“The intent of the law is self protection,” Larsen said.
To me that says hunters who carry should determine how much firepower they need to stop a bruin should the situation arise.
Zembower recommends a .357 as the minimum caliber.
My personal recommendation to hunters who will tote a handgun is to continue carrying bear spray to be used as an initial deterrent.
Another personal observation is this. Hunters who use corn to bait deer into bow range should not complain about bears being around and should not be shooting at them. However, the law, as I read it, does not make it illegal to shoot a bear that has come to your location to eat corn and then endangers you.
Other facets of this new law reach back to existing code relating to handguns, such as transporting the firearm.
Larsen said legal transport takes place when the unloaded handgun is in an enclosed case or enclosed holster and the ammunition is elsewhere within the vehicle.
“That applies to ATVs as well,” Larsen said. “The handgun must be unloaded and enclosed.”
Transporting of handguns for hunting is legal to and from the hunting grounds, according to existing law.
Larsen said officers are allowed to use discretion in individual cases where transport is in question.
“Common sense is involved,” Larsen said. He used this scenario. A hunter with a handgun in his vehicle stopping at a store on the way home from a hunt to get a jug of milk would not seem to be a problem, but if the hunter has to pass his house on the way to the store it would be common sense to take the gun into the residence before continuing.
In addition, a hunter must be at least 21 to carry a handgun in the field. The handgun must be carried openly, that is in a visible fashion. The barrel must be six inches or shorter. Scopes or electronic sights are not legal.
Larsen referred me to the Maryland Gun Center for an answer to another of my questions.
If a hunter has a handgun passed on to him by a deceased family member and there is no paperwork available for that firearm is it legal to transport and carry while bowhunting?
The $4.6 million center was created in 2013 by O’Malley to implement his gun control bill that passed that year. It is staffed by Maryland State Police troopers and clerks.
As of press time for this page on Friday, nobody from the center had responded to my inquiry emailed on Wednesday.
Beitzel said he believes previously inherited handguns would be grandfathered in, thus making them legal, the same way ownership of assault rifles and handguns was made legal before enactment of the Firearms Safety Act in October 2013.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at email@example.com.