Lou Compton, a member of the Maryland Wildlife Advisory Commission, refers to Senate Bill 966 as the Deer Wars Bill.
He sees the impact of the bill — which has passed the Senate and the House and awaits the governor’s signature — as a war against deer in Charles and St. Mary’s counties, a war that the deer and deer hunters will lose. The bill, with the intent to reduce crop damage, requires:
• Department of Natural Resources to establish a program to train rifle shooters to kill deer (currently, shotguns are legal, but rifles are not in those counties).
• People with crop damage permits be given priority to participate in this training.
• A shotgun deer hunting season for the months of January, February and March.
• That those with crop damage permits be allowed to use shotguns through all deer seasons, including archery season.
• Crop damage permits to be legal on state agricultural crop lands in addition to private lands.
• Crop damage permits, once issued, be in force for three years.
“The impact of this bill will be devastating to the deer herd there,” Compton said. “Nowhere else in the country is there a deer season at that time of year. It’s a dangerous precedent and flies in the face of the North American wildlife conservation model being used for management.”
Obviously, other WAC members share Compton’s point of view because the group recently voted unanimously to send a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley asking him to veto the bill sponsored by Sen. Roy P. Dyson.
“I’ve been on the commission for five years and that’s the first time during my tenure that we have asked the governor to veto a bill,” Compton said.
O’Malley is scheduled to sign bills on May 5 and May 15. The lists of bills to be considered on those days have not yet been provided.
Southern Maryland houses some really nice bucks. The Crutchfield Buck, a massive buck killed by Bill Crutchfield during the 2006 shotgun season in Charles County, became the largest nontypical ever taken on the East Coast with a Boone and Crockett score of 268 1/8.
“Sen. Dyson’s bill that allows gun hunting for deer in February and March when bucks have lost their antlers will result in big bucks being shot because they look like antlerless deer,” Compton said.
In spite of his misgivings about the bill, Compton said he doesn’t “see dedicated hunters embracing this kind of a season.”
But he admits there are other possibilities. He worries that hunters who have sat around the house since Christmas and have cabin fever will decide in March to kill some deer to add to the venison supply.
Certainly the fetuses being carried by does would be of a substantial size by mid to late March, which is only two months from birthing.
“Look, we pay game managers and trust them to manage the deer,” Compton said. “It isn’t right for legislators to make regulations.”
The bill has a sunset clause. It is written to be in effect for three years and then go away. Compton believes that much damage to the deer herds in those counties would take place during those three years.
Glenn Therres, an associate director for the wildlife agency, said there are as many questions about the intent of the bill as there are answers, maybe more.
WHS opposed the bill from the time it was introduced.
“We will see an opinion from the attorney general about some of it,” Therres said.
For example, the bill would allow the use of shotguns on state owned agricultural lands.
“It doesn’t say department lands, so if state ag land exists at St. Mary’s University, would that be available for deer hunting?” Therres wondered.
WHS Director Paul Peditto called the bill a legislative coupon to kill deer on public lands irrespective of the other public use or users or seasons.
Peditto said it would allow holders of crop damage permits to use shotguns to kill deer all year long. “And it would allow the general hunting public to use shotguns during the January portion of bow season,” he said.
Although the bill requires the agency to train people to shoot rifles in a county where only shotguns are legal, it doesn’t actually authorize the use of rifles, Therres and Peditto agreed.
Peditto questions the eventual efficiency of the bill in reducing the deer herds and subsequent crop damage.
“I would guess that we’ll see very few deer taken in (January-March) compared to the existing scenario,” Peditto said, referring to current antlerless deer regulations that result in hunting pressure and harvest.
It appears that WHS would continue to regulate bag limits.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at email@example.com.