It's been common knowledge for some years that deer are flourishing in Maryland. That's one thing that kept bringing Robert Beeman back to the woods around Waldorf.
It brought him there in the late 1950s and on through the 1960s. This decade he began bringing along his son, Gary now a strapping 19-year-old.
Robert Beeman has hunted, man and boy, for 20 years, and this year he finally fired his gun.
The two Beemans stationed themselves on the ground near the power lines off Piney Church Road on Saturday, the opening day of Maryland's one-week deer season.
They settled in before dawn in a cold drizzle. Just after sunrise a cold front blasted through, bringing freezing 35-mile-an-hour winds.
Minutes later, Gary had his moment. A spike-antlered buck wandered past and stopped within range. The youngster squeezed off a single round from his 12-gauge and the buck fell dead.
At 19, Gary Beeman had done what his father had only dreamed of.
So the elder Beeman helped darg off the buck and took up his son's station. Forty minutes later came a sight that set the tables right.
It was a buck, but a big one,sporting 10 points on a handsome headdress. Beeman aimed and fired. He shot true and killed clean.
They loaed the deer into the back seat of their aging convertible and made for Howard's Sporting Goods store to check in. Beeman, a big man of few words, had only this to say:
"This is the one I've been waiting for. I've seen quite a few does, but never no bucks. Now I don't mind going back hunting again."
A quarter-century of hunting had finally paid off for the Beemans, who luxuriated in the glow of admiring glances from the assembled throng at Howard's.
Their is a story of remarkable but not uncommon perseverance in a sport where bullheadedness makes its own reward.
Later in the day came James II. Quade of Hughesville, who stated hunting deer in 1966 and promptly brought down his first buck. He scored again the following year.
Quade got his buck again this year, but only after a 10-year dry spell. "I got one in '66, one in '67 and one in '77, he laughed. "I've hunted every year, every day the season was in."
What kept him going?" Simple "I like the sport."
Quade's buck was worth the wait. It carried a nine-point rack of antlers and weighted in at 164 pounds, field dressed.
Which had everybody ohing and ahing until George Hamilton of Forestville showed up with a magnificient 14-pointer brought down near Wellington Beach with a single shot. And another story of a long wait. It was Hamilton's first shot after 14 years of hunting off and on.
Not everyone has to spend a third of a lifetime to bag a deer, but there's never a guarantee in this sport.
It helps to be hunting in Charles County, where big deer seem to be the rule rather than the exception. The countywide tally by day's end was 188 bucks and 103 antlerless deer. 291 in all, compared to a first-day total of 231 last year.
And at Howard's the average weight was somewhere around 150 pounds, which is a substantial deer in any man's woods.
According to Bob Miller, who heads the state's forest wildlife program, the opening-day kill was up in almost all western and southern counties. Early reports weren't in yet from the Eastern Shore, but Miller's guess is it will be an up season in that whitetail hot-bed, too.
The reason: deer aplenty. "The herd is definitely on an upswing in Western Maryland," said Miller, "and in the rest of the state it's big and stable."
He estimated the total Maryland population at 60,000 to 80,000 and expects this year's harvest to be about 9,200.
For those who haven't headed afield yet, there is still time. The season closes Saturday. Charles County is productive turf and close to Washington, but most of the hunting is on private land and permission is required.
There is good hunting on at least three state management areas thereabouts, however. Myrtle Grove State Park, Chapel Point and Doncaster State Park all have been productive public areas.
All three require $2 state public lands hunting stamps, in addition to state licenses. For details on hours and regulations, call the Department of Natural Resources in Annapolis at 301 - 269-3195 or the Laurel regional office at 776-5411.