If August's cool spell didn't convince you it was time to give the blunderbuss a thorough scrubbing, maybe the quiet confidence of area game-commission spokesmen will turn the trick.
"Our deer-hunting forecast points to at least as good a season as last year," says Harry Gillam of the Virginia Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries. The 1981 statewide deer hunt broke all records.
Theodore Godshall of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Tom Cofield of Maryland's Wildlife Administration simply say they're looking forward to a productive 1982 season.
Hunting-prediction is risky with the exception, perhaps, of the whitetail deer. The most popular big-game animal in the U.S. has managed to adapt so wondrously to 20th-century surroundings that in many areas it has reached nuisance proportions. Why? Natural predators are rare along the East Coast and herd-number increases are on a collision course with available browse and suitable winter yards.
Pre-season game outlooks are useful mainly as to resident, year-round wildlife species. With that in mind, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland have had a decent forest mast crop -- "terrific," says Gillam in Richmond -- which, coupled with good reproduction rates, means that squirrels, grouse and wild turkeys are in ample-enough supply to provide many happy hunters' outings this fall and winter.
A spotty forecast is offered for cottontail rabbits in the four states frequented by area hunters. Don't be fooled by the dozens of rabbits along suburban and rural roadsides now: A lot can happen to them before the general November hunting season arrives. The same holds true for bobwhite quail. Pennsylvania closed the quail season last year to protect the birds, then reopened it for 1982 only in its northern counties. Virginia and Maryland officials do not foresee a super quail year.
Pheasant hunters, too, can't depend on reliable forecasts from the best ringneck state within easy driving distance, Pennsylvania. "We can't make evaluations on the pheasants," says Godshall in his Harrisburg office. "They're going through changes all over the country, including our area." In some northern Maryland and nearby Pennsylvania counties there'll be ample supplies of birds and, in others, a marked decline that can partly be blamed on updated farming practices that have removed needed cover -- field-dividing hedgerows and available forest margins, for example.
Now comes the fun part: waterfowl. During most years, the state that sometimes refers to itself as the Canada goose capital of the world will give an optimistic goose- hunting outlook. But glowing predictions from Maryland aren't easy to come by in 1982. Some of the Annapolis game overseers quietly state that it should be "as good as last year." Egad!
Last year was horrendous for thousands of diehard camouflaged waterfowlers. Commercial goose-hunting guides sang the blues. The geese arrived from points north right on schedule -- thousands upon thousands of them. But young, easily decoyed birds became an expensive commodity for most. My personal hangout -- a waterlogged, wonderful tributary near the Chester River in Kent County -- saw several hundred thousand Canadas milling about throughout the season -- far out of range. The vast majority of the geese were adults wise to the gun. Some of them, I know, laughed at us as we hunkered down in our blinds, jamming our calls with freezing breath.
But when Maryland officials resist being pinned to the wall, we may well be up to our belt buckles in gullible geese this season. The reproduction rate in some Canadian wetlands was good; that much is assured. But don't look for great increases in duck migrations. Many duck-hunting successes will be attributable to locally bred birds, year- round swampland and river inhabitants.
Briefly then, it's a mixed outlook. The best bets: Deer and gray squirrels in practically all sectors of every state listed in the chart. The mountainous (and often public) lands of Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland will yield a fair share of grouse and turkey as well. There'll be enough rabbits to go around in many nearby counties, but don't promise duck or goose dinners to anyone until your retriever has put them in your hand.
VIRGINIA COMMISSION OF GAME AND INLAND FISHERIES -- Box 11104, Richmond 23230; 804/257-1000.
MARYLAND WILDLIFE ADMINISTRATION -- Tawes State Office Building, Annapolis 21401; 301/269-2752; TTY for the hearing- impaired, 301/269-2609.
WEST VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES -- Charleston 25305; 304/348-3381.
PENNSYLVANIA GAME COMMISSION -- Box 1567, Harrisburg 17120; 717/787-3745..