Historically, Marylanders have enjoyed very liberal bag limits when it came to their whitetail deer hunting, especially in Region B. But this year the DNR has proposed to reduce the buck bag limit by half. The old regulations allowed the harvesting of two bucks per weapon, per season. Meaning that two bucks may be taken with a bow, two with a muzzleloader, and two with a rifle. A total of SIX bucks a year without purchasing a bonus stamp. This is virtually unheard of when it comes to harvesting bucks in other parts of the country. The 2012 season may be different.
This year those bag limits may be cut in half, so only three total bucks may be taken without a bonus stamp which will extend your limit by one. The doe bag limits remain essentially the same with limits of ten does for some weapons and unlimited for others.
I welcome the change and only wish it was even more restrictive. Maryland has a great potential for producing big bucks. There is an abundance of nutrient rich food sources that can create heavy bodies and big racks. The whitetail deer is an “edge” habitat animal, meaning that it thrives at the boundary between two habitats. For example forest and field. Maryland is a patchwork of agricultural fields broken by meandering creek bottoms and developments, great edge habitat. Based upon the deer that I have had the privilege to harvest, see from the stand, and captured on my trail cameras, the genetics for big bucks is definitely there. Sounds like an awesome hunting destination, so why is Maryland not considered a big buck mecca?
In one word, maturity. Having such liberal bag limits affects a hunter’s attitude about shooting younger bucks. It’s not a huge loss to burn a tag on a spike when you have five more in your pocket. The fewer tags you have, the more precious they become and the less likely you are to spend them on smaller (younger) bucks. By letting a young buck grow to maturity, you are giving yourself the chance to see just how big he can get before you harvest him.
I hear “well, I’m a meat hunter and you can’t eat the antlers, so it doesn’t matter to me” often enough that it is disturbing. If you don’t eat the antler, why shoot a deer that has them, when there is an overwhelming number of does out there. Guess what? They don’t grow antlers in the first place. The DNR leaving the doe bag limits very liberal is a great idea. The whitetail population is not suffering by any stretch of the imagination and needs to be controlled. In addition to the benefits of number reduction, high doe harvests and more restrictive buck limits will also improve the buck to doe ratio. Ideally a buck should only breed three does a year to maintain his health. A higher ratio means the opportunity to breed more does and the more run down a buck will get during and after the rut. During a hard winter or late season food shortage, these bucks can be really stressed to survive.
All in all I welcome the restriction but wish they went further. I do not think they should specifically state one buck per weapon. I think you should have buck tags that can be taken with any weapon. So if you shoot your bucks with your bow, then you can not shoot any more with your rifle or muzzleloader. What difference does it make what weapon is used? The second change would be a two buck limit to further create better selection among hunters. Finally, I believe there should be an antler restriction of four tines, one inch in length, on at least one side to be considered a legal antlered buck. The reduced limit will help the numbers of bucks but for better quality you need a regulation that promotes maturity. Although I have seen 1 1/2 year old bucks that were already sporting nice 8 point racks, this will save the majority of 2 1/2 year olds and younger that typically produce 6 point racks or less.
So the Maryland DNR has taken the first step in the right direction for improving the whitetail buck hunting in what I think could be a sleeper state for producing high quality whitetails. There are many benefits that we could talk about all day that come along with this prospect. Such as, better hunting draws more hunters, both residents and out state, and thereby bringing more revenue to be used for further conservation efforts.
A lot of good will come from these changes although you won’t see any much improvement in the whitetail bucks of Maryland for a few years. The more bucks you have, the more that will survive. So, I am predicting that by the 2015-2016 season, you will start to see a few more 3 1/2 year olds running around and from then on it will be a much more exciting time in the deer woods.
Check out the proposed regulations at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Comments/2012-2014_Regulations.asp