Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

February 16, 2013

All points bulletin! Deer antler bill introduced at Md. General Assembly

If House Bill 990 passes the Maryland General Assembly and gets signed by the governor, people who hunt deer in Garrett County will all become trophy hunters.

The bill was requested by the Quality Deer Management Association and introduced by Delegate Wendell Beitzel on Feb. 8. No date has yet been set for a hearing in the Environmental Matters Committee.

When I first read the bill, it sounded to me as if hunters would be required to shoot only bucks that had four points on one side, not counting a brow tine.

Here is how it is written: “In Garrett County, a person may not hunt an antlered deer with fewer than three points up, measuring one inch or longer, on the main beam of one antler.”

What does that sound like to you?

A.J. Fleming, president of the Mountain Maryland Chapter of QDMA, assures me that the intent is to make legal only bucks that have three points on at least one side, not counting the brow tine. In other words, the main beam would count as a point.

I don’t hunt deer in Garrett County, but I’m going to act like the legislation is being proposed for my deer hunting county, Allegany, and tell you what I think about it. I think it smells like the Bear Creek Fish Hatchery two days after lightning killed thousands of trout in October.

It smells that way because it tells a landowner that when he goes out on his own property, the one on which he pays taxes, the one on which he chases deer from his cornfield, that he can’t shoot a spike or a forkhorn.

Look, QDMA is apparently making great inroads in Garrett County, getting landowners to voluntarily apply antler point rules. Fleming said the acreage is approaching 28,000. That’s great. I applaud. Keep going. But don’t force this rule on everybody.

The bill as written would apply from Finzel to Friendsville, from Redhouse to Asher Glade and all points near and in between.

We’re talking private land and public land. We’re talking Uncle Arlie’s farm of 200 acres and the Savage River State Forest of 54,000 acres.

Managing wildlife by legislation can be good as long as it is not a biological decision. For example, expanding Sunday hunting or shrinking the safety zone for bowhunters is admirable.

But biological decisions should be left to the biologists of the Wildlife & Heritage Service. I see the antler-point restriction to be more of a social desire than a biological necessity; sort of like a royal Wulff vs. a nightcrawler.

We don’t need elected politicians to determine buck/doe ratios or carrying capacity or the age structures of deer herds.

Remember this! Legislation in, legislation out. Once a bill passes and is signed, it becomes law and can be changed only through another bill in a future General Assembly session.

The WHS has the authority to create a regulation about antler points. If a change is needed, let it happen through that channel.

Mike Griffith is the vice president of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association, which is studying the legislation before taking a stance.

Griffith said that on a personal basis he limits himself to taking only bucks with three points on one side, but has a difficult time with telling somebody else they have to abide.

“A lot of people in this part of the state hunt to get meat for their families,” Griffith said. “We’re looking at an increase in the cost of a hunting license, but less opportunity. It’s not about antlers to them.”

Great point and here is why.

In Almost Maryland, we are limited to a buck and a doe in each of three seasons; bow, modern firearm and muzzleloader.

If anybody is looking to reduce the deer harvest even further than it has already dropped, this bill will do it. It will also reduce the number of deer in a family’s freezer.

Down the way, as they say, down in the rest of the state east of a point near Clear Spring in Washington County, hunters can kill antlerless deer with abandon. In fact, there is no limit on the number of does that can be killed using archery equipment.

You need more freezers for venison if you hunt that part of the state.

Here in the sticks, a forkhorn buck tastes just as good as an 18-month old doe.

I wonder too, if the proposed rule might lead to a greater harvest of does. Would a hunter who would be satisfied with a buck, any buck, in rifle season, for example, shoot a doe that he would not have killed if spikes were legal.

A hunter who hunts all three seasons and can’t find a legal buck may be inclined to take the only other legal deer, a doe with bow, centerfire and muzzleloader.

Fleming said there is a biological necessity to go with an antler rule.

Fleming said that during the 2011-2012 deer seasons, yearling bucks made up 71 percent of the legal bucks killed in Garrett County. “For better deer and better deer hunting there is much benefit to protecting that yearling buck,” he wrote in an email.

Fleming claims that the proposed rule will protect 85 percent of the yearling bucks in Garrett County.

As I read the bill, I see that it makes no exceptions. Everybody hunting in Garrett County would be required to abide.

What I’m saying is, junior hunters, during both the junior hunt and the regular season, would be required to kill only bucks with the required number of points.

Ditto for senior hunters.

“I mean, are you going to tell an older guy who can’t maneuver that well in the cold that he can’t shoot a spike or a 4-point?” Griffith asked. “I’m not sure I’m OK with that.”

Tim Gift, Mountain Lake Park, is a Garrett County deer hunter. Here is part of his letter to Beitzel.

“I can tell this bill is backed by people who hunt for the trophy and not the meat. There are a lot of folks that depend on harvesting deer simply to supplement their food supply. We are such a family. We could care less if it is a spike or 10-point.

“As hunting licenses get more expensive and bills like HB 990 continue to restrict the ability to harvest here in Western Maryland, folks back east have a free-for-all and can kill as many as they want.

“It is bills such as this that has the ability to make criminals out of normally honest people,” Gift concluded.

I was wondering about that too. Would this regulation lead to more people sliding home non-trophy bucks without checking them in.

By the way, the Maryland Natural Resources Police has usually taken the stance that any new regulation gets enforced via warnings rather than by hefty fines during the first year, until the hunters get used to it. Wonder if that would apply if HB 990 is successful?

Paul Peditto knows about wildlife. He directs the agency that manages Maryland’s critters. Peditto said that he, too, reads the legislation as requiring four points on a side not counting the brow tine.

When you take pressure off antlered deer, it transfers to antlerless deer, Peditto explained. “While we would prefer that fewer than 71 percent of the bucks harvested are 18 months old, we don’t want to increase the harvest of antlerless deer in that part of the state.”

It is not yet known if DNR will take a position on HB 990, though Peditto said the agency generally doesn’t like legislation that fine-tunes management.

“I think this conversation requires a little more time and dialog with everybody involved,” Peditto said.

Kent County, according to Peditto, has amassed a serious amount of private acreage that is managed under QDM concepts on a voluntary basis. “They achieved the QDM model without involving the government,” he said.

“We have a good plan that takes new ideas down the regulation process and involves everybody who has an interest,” Peditto said. “We would prefer change to take place using that process. In fact, we have a survey coming up in Western Maryland this summer that will ask opinions (of residents) about quality deer management.”

You know what else I’m thinking? HB 990 might also push Garrett County hunters onto the public lands in Allegany County where they can whack any old buck. Come on down.

BULLETIN: Late this week Beitzel said his bill will be amended to clearly point out that a legal buck would be one with three points on one side not counting the brow tine. Beitzel said, also, that discussion will take place about exempting junior and senior hunters from the antler restriction rule.

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

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