Maryland’s early muzzleloader season for deer hunting began in 1994 and I vividly remember the brouhaha that led up to it.
The Wildlife & Heritage Service proposed the hunt and many of Maryland’s bow hunters flipped out.
A public meeting was conducted in Allegany County to let everybody put their ideas on the table and the table wasn’t nearly big enough to hold them all. Busloads of bow hunters from places such as Carroll County and the Eastern Shore somehow found Mount Savage where the meeting was conducted.
The archers, of course, were concerned that bucks would be removed from the woods by smokepole hunters before the rut and thus unavailable to them.
Smoking was allowed pretty much everywhere in those days and the cigarette fumes that filled that room were almost as thick as the ones in the newsroom at the Cumberland Times-News.
The moderator had apparently just graduated from moderator training. Everybody knew that the meeting was primed to be cantankerous. So, the moderator said something like, “Gentlemen, we are all interested in the welfare of Maryland’s deer so let us have a good, respectful discussion here tonight. We will make a verbal contract to be polite and listen without interruption to each speaker.”
Well, polite happened … for about 10 minutes. Then some old boy wearing a Mossy Oak shirt and a John Deere ballcap stood up and said, “I just rode more than 100 miles on a bus with a bunch of stinky hunters to get to wherever we are. I’m not making no contract with nobody. I’ve got something to say and you’re going to listen to it.”
Well, the hunt this year, Oct. 22-24, will be the 27th since it began.
We weren’t too many years into early muzzleloader hunting when in-line smokepoles became popular and most of them had scopes. Scopes weren’t legal in Maryland, so WHS changed the regulations to allow them. There were objections, including those made by the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association, so WHS once again prohibited the scopes.
Trouble is, a lot of hunters had already gone out and bought them. Pretty soon, scopes were legalized once more and remain so.
In fact, I still use my Ruger Model 77/50, which is no longer manufactured. Eventually I bought a conversion kit allowing the rifle to use the 209 primers for ignition. The scoped rifle is very accurate, but an ache in the derriere to clean.
The hunt was initially offered in a very cautious package of three days and that is still the case in 2020.
It’s a fun hunt, with the weather usually being somewhat warm, especially compared to modern firearm season. Here in the 2.5 counties of Region A, hunters are allowed one deer during the early hunt and it may be a buck or a doe.
Bucks aren’t into the rut or even the pre-rut at that time, but they are thinking about it. But, I have to tell you, bucks don’t always read the book. A few years ago, I watched a very nice 8-point make a scrape, urinate on it and twist his antlers into an overhanging branch on Oct. 1.
Here is the best hunting tip you will ever get. Spend time in the woods.
During the 2019 hunt, Garrett County hunters bagged 696 deer. Bucks accounted for 381 of that total.
The numbers in Allegany County were 253 bucks and 226 antlerless deer. The harvests in 2018 were similar in each county.
Now that we have more than a quarter century to look at the results of an early muzzleloader season in Maryland, we can say that it has not ruined deer hunting for those who prefer using bows or modern rifles.
As I have said for many other new regulations, if you hunt on private lands and the owner of those lands doesn’t like a regulation, be it early muzzleloader hunting or hunting on Sunday, that person will set the rules.
The early black powder season has given Maryland hunters additional time afield. Increasing opportunity has been a trademark of the WHS and that’s what it’s all about. The agency biologists are dedicated professionals who aren’t about to manage the important deer resource in a way that is detrimental to the herd, whether that group of deer is in Garrett or Wicomico counties.
Hope for just enough breeze Oct. 22-24 to blow the smoke away after you shoot at that big buck with your muzzleloader, otherwise you won’t be able to see if the animal dropped or ran. Been there. Done that.
Mike Sawyers retired as outdoor editor of the Cumberland Times-News in 2018. His column now appears every other Saturday. To order his book, “Native Queen, a celebration of the hunting and fishing life,” send him a check for $15 to 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557.