Cumberland Times-News

June 23, 2012

Dynamics of deer hunting discussed

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— I am convinced that when deer harvest numbers go down one of the main reasons is because people hunt differently now than they used to.

If you had never heard the term “still hunting” you might say, “Well, that’s what I do. I’m still. I sit and watch my corn pile.”

Many of you know, of course, that still hunting means moving slowly, e-v-e-r s-o s-l-o-w-l-y through the woods in an attempt to find and dispatch deer. You use the wind, the rain and the terrain to hunt this way. Some of the best days for still hunting are those with bad weather. Wet leaves muffle the sound of your footsteps. Windy days muffle sound and also hide your movement.

I learned to hunt that way and so did just about everybody else who was born in the decade before and the decade after my birth date.

Hunters in those days also did a lot of driving. One line of hunters would move through the woods toward a line of stationary hunters, the idea being to make deer move and become visible. I never liked drives so I was a still hunter.

People don’t still hunt much any more and than means people don’t move through the woods. That also means that they don’t make deer move through the woods.

A deer, especially a buck, especially a really nice buck that has been hearing, smelling and seeing foreign things in the woods is going to bed down in some cover and not move during daylight unless some really sexy doe comes trotting by.

What else can make harvest numbers decrease?

The obvious answer is fewer deer.

And, there are fewer deer in Western Maryland, no doubt about it. Our deer populations are down from those glory days at the turn of the century.

But, you know what? Without having hard numbers to back me up, I believe that the number of hunters is down as well, as is their intensity.

Loss of access to private land has played a role, also. Western Maryland is a small piece of real estate. You take a couple thousand acres here and a couple hundred there and remove hunting from that land and you begin to reduce the harvest.

Harvest of bucks is down, too, because many landowners, clubs, etc., are choosing to shoot only bucks with a certain number of antler points.

That means spikes and forks are not getting whacked and added into the harvest total.

I’m convinced that predators are playing a role, but I have no idea how big a role and I don’t think anybody really knows.

I spend more time than the average Joe in the mountains and I hear fewer coyotes now than I did 10 years ago when there was howling and yipping almost every time out.

I’m certainly seeing more bears and signs of them. The monster bear I saw on Dan’s Mountain in early June spooked me out and I was in my truck.

There is a fawn crop out there as we speak that is likely serving as the main course for those bears. I think a greater harvest of bears would have at least some impact in elevating the population of deer.

Our economic times have been a bit difficult. I don’t know. Are more deer being shot out kitchen windows so there will be meat on the table?

I know this. I can sit on our back deck at the base of Dan’s Mountain in July and August and September and just as daylight is about gone I’ll hear a distant, lone report of a high powered rifle. I’m pretty sure what is going on.

In any event, we get to do it all again pretty soon. I fact, we get to do it sooner than ever, because the Maryland bow season begins Sept. 7 this year.

That’s just 11 weeks from now.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.