HAGERSTOWN, MD. -- Hunters toting bows, rifles and muzzleloaders are expected to kill a record number of deer this season in Maryland, where wildlife officials seek to stabilize a growing herd.
"I expect our harvest this year will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000," Joshua L. Sandt, a state forest wildlife program manager, said Monday. "We've had a record season for the past 10 years. Hopefully, in the next two or three years, we'll stabilize the harvest."
Maryland's deer herd has been growing since after World War II, he said from his office in Wye Mills.
To help control the population, the state has lengthened the hunting seasons and increased bag limits.
This year, bow hunters have an extra 20 days to get a deer, Sandt said. The bow seasons are Sept. 15 to Nov. 23, Dec. 3 to Dec. 21 and Jan. 7 to Jan. 31.
The firearms season is from Nov. 24 to Dec. 1. Hunters using muzzleloaders can kill deer from Dec. 22 to Jan. 5.
There are about 150,000 deer in Maryland, roaming every county, particularly the western sections of the state, Sandt said.
Last year, there were 130,000 to 140,000 deer in the state.
The herd is growing because of an abundant food supply, said Steve Bittner, the Maryland Forest, Park and Wildlife Service's district wildlife manager for Washington and Frederick counties.
He said deer are migrating from forested areas to farms and orchards, where food is more plentiful.
Young fruit trees are lost or damaged when deer rub against the bark to remove the velvetlike covering that grows on their antlers. The animals also eat fruit buds and vegetation on farms.
Maryland's deer population also has grown because of high reproduction rates, wildlife officials said.
"One contributing factor has been the mild winters," which have increased the survival rate, said Tim Nelling, president of Keystone Country Store, a sportsmen's shop in Hagerstown.
Although the number of deer has risen, Sandt said, the number of hunters in the state has leveled off.
About 120,000 licenses have been issued in each of the past three years, he said. Anti-hunting sentiment, fewer places to hunt and a reduction in the number of younger hunters has stabilized the number of deer hunters in Maryland, he said.