Volume 13, Issue 9 ~ March 3 - 9, 2005
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

There Ought to be a Law …
… so Anne Arundel hunters can target deer on Sunday

Some keep the Sabbath going to church—
I keep it, staying at home—
With a bobolink for a Chorister—
And an orchard, for a Dome.
–Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886.

Obviously, Ms. Dickinson preferred to be out-of-doors on Sundays, and currently there are many who share her druthers. Among them are more than a few Maryland deer hunters.

According to one Anne Arundel County legislator, there are nine others from his county in the House of Delegates who would also prefer those deer hunters go afield for the chase of whitetails on the Sabbath. Yet there are many others both within the legislature and elsewhere in the county and state who think nimrods should be in church on Sundays — or anywhere other than heading for the deer trail.

Back in colonial times, when Maryland banned hunting on Sundays, the thinking was that the law would help fill more pews in the church. But times have changed, and pretty much gone are the so-called Blue Laws that dictated what one could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.

Still, some old taboos remain. Among them is deer hunting on Sundays in 11 Maryland counties, including Anne Arundel. But Del. Robert Costa thinks our county should be open to the Sunday hunting of deer. His thinking is not about Blue Laws and individual choices. It’s about public safety and wildlife management.

Ought to Be a Law
So Del. Costa’s name is on a bill being debated in Annapolis that would open the county to deer hunting on private lands one Sunday during modern firearms season and another Sunday during the bowhunting season. The muzzleloader seasons would continue to ban any Sunday hunting. Nine other county delegates — Democrats and Republicans alike — are listed as co-sponsors of Costa’s legislation.

So it all boils down to whether Anne Arundel County will become the first non-rural jurisdiction to allow deer hunters to go afield on the Sabbath. Currently, thanks to legislation supported by the Department of Natural Resources two years ago, limited Sunday hunting is allowed in Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Kent, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Washington counties.

There is little if any connection between church groups and anti-Sunday hunting interests. What we have are wildlife managers and hunters supportive of additional hunting opportunity and anti-hunters and animal rights activists opposed to any liberalization of hunting laws and regulations.

Meanwhile, we have a burgeoning deer population in the state: about a quarter of a million whitetails whose appetites target the crops of farmers and backyard gardeners, decorative lawn shrubbery and wild habitat essential to game and none-game species.

Our abundant deer also pose problems on country roads and highways.

The highway safety issue has been mentioned prominently since the Anne Arundel County Sunday hunting bill first surfaced. The thinking among sponsors is that every deer that is harvested by hunters taking advantage of two additional hunting days is one less that motorists have to worry about.

How Many Deer Can a Hunter Shoot
Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, told The Sun that adding a day or two of hunting won’t bring much relief to the problem. His statement roused my curiosity. I went back to my notes of two years ago, when Maryland held its first Sunday hunt since 1723, and found that no figures were available on the archery harvest for the single Sunday that hunting was allowed — but on the Sunday during the modern firearms season hunters bagged 2,899 deer.

That was in only 12 counties — and on only one day of hunting, which in my mathematics averages 242 deer per county. Regardless of what Mr. Markarian says, that’s more than a few deer. If our hunters took only half of that average figure, there would be 121 fewer deer around.

Anne Arundel County has quite a deer herd, and quite a few problems because of it. We could do without that many whitetails venturing into fields of crops and lawns. And highways. Every little bit helps.

Pro and Con
The do-gooders would like to turn the thinking around; instead of considering that fewer deer mean fewer problems, including safety on the roads, they talk about the dangers of armed hunters afield on a Sunday. Allow me to remind them that we now have had two years of limited hunting on the Sabbath without a single problem beyond a few minor trespassing incidents.

Also, statistics, nationally and in Maryland conclusively prove that hunting is a safer sport than many others. It is conducted six days a week within the seasons for all game. Why, might I ask, would hunters be any less careful on a Sunday than any other day of the week?

Keep this in mind: The way the state’s Sunday hunting program operates, hunters can only hunt on private lands on the Sabbath. To do that, they must own or lease the land, or have written permission from the landowner. The bottom line is that a landowner can choose or refuse Sunday hunting.

Hunting on public lands on Sundays is absolutely prohibited, which should arrest safety concerns of those who talk of armed hunters endangering their birdwatching, hiking and horseback riding. So, much for that argument.

When it comes to Anne Arundel County breaking the non-rural barrier for Sunday hunting, one must consider the dynamics of the troublesome deer population explosion. It is in the outskirts of cities and smaller communities that the deer problem is the worst, thus needing most the culling of the population. At present, hunting is the only management tool resorted to by wildlife managers to thin herds.

Nationwide, Sunday hunting is not new; it is pursued in three-quarters of the states. In earlier times when six-day work weeks were common, Sunday was the only day hunters had to go afield. More than 30 years ago, there was a drive to bring Sunday hunting to Maryland. It failed, mostly because farmers feared hunters would trespass during church or social calls. Written-permission laws have pretty much alleviated that concern.

Costa’s bill is certainly not opening the door to indiscriminate hunting on a holy day; instead it’s removing more deer from a herd while granting hunters additional hours to go afield. There is no dramatic change in the new Sunday hunting program; it remains the same. Anne Arundel County would simply become the 13th county to be included in the existing law.

Under the existing law, Sunday hunting for deer only is allowed in 12 counties one day in early November during the regular bowhunting season, and then again on the first Sunday of the modern firearms season in late November. Those two days put a dent in whitetail numbers that continue to worsen.

Methinks that’s an opportunity we can’t ignore. Enough said.

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