Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

January 25, 2014

Get ready! Get set! Legislate!

The wheelings and dealings associated with the 90-day Maryland General Assembly have been going on for more than two weeks now and some legislation having to do with hunting fishing has already been proposed.

For the third consecutive year, bills have been introduced into the Senate (SB 231, George Edwards) and the House (HB 262, Wendell Beitzel) to allow bow hunters in Almost Maryland to protect themselves from bears.

In essence, the bills would make it legal for bowhunters in what the Maryland Department of Natural Resources calls deer hunting Region A (Garrett, Allegany and part of Washington counties) to openly pack a handgun to be used for self defense should a bear get nasty.

The bills point out that a hunter must be at least 21 to carry and that the handgun may not be used to finish off a deer wounded by an arrow.

Many bowhunters have been kept in their treestands by bears. This usually happens because the hunter has put out bait, often corn, to attract deer. Baiting, of course, is legal on private lands in Maryland. I know of at least two such incidents during which the hunters used their archery equipment to shoot and kill the bears. One was in Garrett County and the other in Allegany. Neither hunter was charged. That is neither hunter was charged with breaking the law. Both hunters were charged by the bears.

Two years ago, similar bills were opposed by the Maryland Natural Resources Police. An NRP spokesman testified that the use of pepper spray was a more effective defense against bears than was a handgun.

A year ago, a pro-gun bill didn't stand much of a chance because of the political climate generated by Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislation to ban military style rifles and make more restrictive the process to purchase handguns. Let's hope these bills pass this time around and are signed into law. Other states allow bowhunters to carry firearms for protection. In Oregon the major concern is about possible attacks by mountain lions.

As has been the case for a number of years now, delegates and senators from a variety of Maryland counties are starting to enter bills to add Sunday hunting opportunities, usually for deer. In addition, politicians are attempting to alter regulations such as the safety zone for hunting with a bow and arrow. That is currently 150 yards. Montgomery County representatives are attempting to shorten that to 50 yards.

Rather than get into these kinds of bills for distant counties, I'll report at the end of the session which ones pass. You can count, however, on reading here about any bill that has an impact upon Garrett and/or Allegany counties.

The only way to change Sunday hunting or handgun regulations is to go through the General Assembly.

However, things such as hunting season dates or bag limits or counties open to a particular hunt don't have to wiggle their ways through the often sticky political process. That's why I don't like to see a bill such as SB 192 introduced.

That bill would require the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service to open a fall turkey season in a portion of Anne Arundel County.

The wildlife agency has the biologists who can make that decision based upon scientific evidence. Don't put it in the hands of politicians, some of whom would not know a wild turkey from a turkey buzzard. Instead, use the decision making process that has just begun for the new hunting regulations that will be established this spring.

The WHS has stakeholder meetings, public hearings and ample opportunity for comment and suggestions from the public and even from elected officials. Go that route, Sen. Edward Reilly of Anne Arundel County.

Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers may be contacted at msawyers@times-news.com.

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