Cumberland Times-News

Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors

March 3, 2012

Md. DNR says no to handguns

If blue crabs grew to be 120 pounds in two years or maxed out in the 400- to 600-pound range, I guarantee you that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the General Assembly would collaborate to find a way to protect Marylanders who stick their toes in the Chesapeake Bay.

Maybe swimmers would be allowed to carry spearguns.

I will admit to having a case of 3D. I am disappointed, disillusioned and disheartened that the DNR, on Feb. 21, by way of a Natural Resources Police spokesman, testified at the General Assembly in opposition to a bill that would allow bowhunters to carry a handgun to protect themselves from bears.

House Bill 739 applied only to deer hunting Region A, which encompasses all of Garrett and Allegany counties and the western portion of Washington County. That’s where most of the bears live.

This legislation and its Senate companion (588) were sought by the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association whose officers had heard enough stories from members about close encounters of the bruin kind.

Though the possibility of arming bowhunters has been discussed for a few years, this is the first time that legislation has been introduced.

In a position paper, the DNR said the bill “could create human safety hazards and result in unnecessary harm to black bears. In the rare case of a bear-bowhunter conflict, bear pepper spray and noise are the safest and most effective ways to repel a bear. The spray is effective at a range of up to 30 feet.”

Well, I see the bear as the human safety hazard. I see the bear as the thing that could result in unnecessary harm to humans.

This DNR testimony sounds as if the agency has joined the Bears Are People Too organization.

The DNR goes on to state “According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, in self defense against bears, shooting a bear at close range with a handgun can potentially escalate the seriousness of an attack; while encounters where firearms are not used are less likely to result in injury or death of the human or the bear.”

I say that shooting a bear at close range can potentially end the seriousness of an attack.

Fine. Let a bowhunter carry both, pepper spray for the first line of defense and the handgun if ultimately needed.

The DNR admits that there is no estimate of the number of bear-bowhunter encounters in which neither the bear nor hunter was harmed. The agency knows of three encounters since 2009 in which hunters legally defended themselves against bears by using arrows to kill the animals.

AGSA was trying to document the non-lethal, no-injury encounters, but was a little late getting started in time for the legislative party.

Here’s the thing. There is a better chance that the Baltimore Orioles will win the World Series this year than there is of pro-gun legislation making it through the Maryland General Assembly and being signed into law.

Everybody who hangs around Annapolis’ West Wing knows this. There is an unwritten agreement between pro- and anti-gun politicians that neither will put in any new bills.

That way it won’t get any better or any worse, depending, of course, upon your point of view about firearms.

The DNR knows this, too.

Thus, the agency could have taken no stance on HB 739 or even supported it knowing it was dead on arrival.

At least that would have put the agency on the side of the hunters in Almost Maryland.

Most of the up-close-and-personal encounters between archers and bears take place because hunters spread corn on the forest floor trying to attract deer.

If you bait in Almost Maryland you will be visited by bears.

It wouldn’t bother me a bit if the bill was written to say it is legal to carry a handgun as long as you don’t hunt over bait.

I would go further even — much to the chagrin of Southern States and other corn vendors — in that I would favor a ban on baiting in Region A if bowhunters are allowed to tote.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com or 301-784-2523.

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Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors
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