Tourists from out of town are standard fare during an Annapolis summer. Only usually, they don't have four legs.
Deer have conquered suburbia, and they have nibbled their way through city neighborhoods everywhere there is so much as a fig leaf to disguise their progress. But now the antlered legions are striking at the very heart of the state capital.
For the third time in a month, a doe appeared out of nowhere in downtown Annapolis yesterday morning, dashing past the boats tied at the City Dock and startling the coffee-sipping passersby.
A deer discovered grazing on Fleet Street last week was captured and removed after a five-hour standoff, but yesterday no one could say where the new guest had gone -- only that it appeared to be wounded and, in the words of morning runner Jennifer Kulynych, "almost looked as if it knew where it was going."
It was unclear what had happened to the doe, but witnesses speculated that it had been hit by a car. State Circle resident Chris Hughes, having coffee and reading The Washington Post, saw the deer bounding across the State House lawn before it galloped down Main Street, hung a right at the City Dock and passed the Fawcett Boat Supplies store. Hughes said it was bleeding from the left foreleg. After that, residents lost sight of it.
"It was really startling, partly because it was moving so fast," Kulynych said.
At Fawcett yesterday, store worker Bill Griffin said he hadn't seen any trace of the deer.
The resident deer expert in Annapolis isn't anyone from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources or the county animal control agency. It's Sen. John C. Astle (D-Anne Arundel), an avid hunter who was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.
Authorities used Astle's silk parachute in an effort to trap the doe that wandered onto Fleet Street on June 7. The deer was grazing at a park named for Astle's son, who died in a car accident caused by a deer wandering in the road.
After an hours-long siege, they tranquilized the downtown deer with a dart gun, then released it in state forestland in Crownsville.
Astle wasn't involved in another incident late last month, in which a deer that had trotted onto Fleet Street ultimately was chased into College Creek by city police.
Astle said he didn't have any idea where the deer were coming from. "They might have come from the other side of the Severn River," he said, from a wooded area called Greenbury Point.
"They're pretty good swimmers," he added.
Richard Hillman, a former mayor of Annapolis and neighbor of Hughes, said he thought that could be possible, but he wondered where the deer would land.
"Do they come ashore at the Naval Academy, walk out Gate 3 and the guards don't say anything to them?" he asked.
Hillman said the deer might be living in a copse near College Creek, where brush has been disturbed recently because of bridge construction.
Wherever they have come from, Maryland's deer population has increased dramatically since it bottomed out in the early 1900s. With little check on their population growth, they have wound up in some surprising places -- but rarely do they check out the waterfront views in downtown Annapolis.
Population figures are hard to come by, but in 1954, hunters bagged 1,549 deer statewide; in the latest season, hunters caught 87,223, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Astle said he thought that the deer problem in Annapolis could be solved by increasing that figure a few notches.
"I may not have to go far to hunt next year," he said.