There are both bleak and optimistic predictions for hunters in Maryland and Virginia only weeks before the various game seasons swing into full gear.
Rex Crawford of the Virginia Game Commission said the state's goose hunting will "probably be an iffy proposition because of extreme dry conditions in the northern breeding grounds." Tom Cofield, the spokesman for the Maryland Wildlife Administration, said: "We expecting an increase of Canada geese."
Both predictions can come true for several reasons. Virginia, for example, never has been a hotbed for Canada geese compared to Maryland. Despite a liberal four-birds-per-day limit in Accomack and Northampton counties on the Eastern Shore for Canada goose, the better hunting most assuredly will come from the northern Eastern Shore counties in Maryland, Kent, Queen Anne's and Talbot counties always provide decent hunting.
Meanwhile, the duck population in both states is dwindling. "Duck hunting may be worse than last year, if you can believe it," Cofield said. Crawford agreed.
There may be one saving grace. Both states are noticing increased flights of snow geese. Hunters along the Atlantic Coast are learning to go after snows in growing numbers. When the Nov. 3-Jan. 30 general Virginia snow goose season (Oct. 23-Nov. 27; Dec. 8-Jan. 30 in Maryland) gets under way, be reminded that a liberalk four-bird per day limit will enhance a goose hunter's day. Add to this a reopening of brant hunting in Maryland (Dec. 11-Jan. 9) and the Dec. 18-Jan. 16 Virginia season with two brant per day legal, and a goose hunter could come away with nine geese of various species on any given outing.
On to the quail, pheasant- and squirrel-hunting seasons.
"The dry summer has been rough on quail in Virginia," Crawford said, "but the Piedmont region of the state could show some decent quail hunting. Squirrel hunting will be poor in some Virginia areas, but others will come up with a bumper crop despite drought conditions."
In Maryland, the squirrel population is thought to be good, maybe above average, yet some fears are voiced about available mast for the gray rodents. "The nut crop may have been affected by dry conditions in the mountain parts of the state, but low-lying areas apparently haven't suffered as much," Cofied said. There also will be slightly increased numbers of quail in southern Maryland and roughly the same as last year in other parts.
Virginia wildlife personnel warn that no matter how many young cottontail rabbits you might see alongside rural roads, the hunting success for rabbits will either be the same or poorer than last year's. By the time the Nov. 9 cottontail season (Nov. 6 in Maryland) begins, predators, disease and a host of other natural problems will have whittled down the rabbit populations. In ;short, an average hunt is predicted.
The same cannot be said about whitedail deer. Virginia, which shows an average of 55,000 successful deer hunters annually, predicts another good season. "Our deer have expanded their range so much, there's no telling which county will suddenly come up with a bumper crop," said Crawford. Just the same, Rockingham, Bath, Giles, Augusta, Highland and Rockbridge counties are expected to yield much venison.
The Maryland deer herd also is in good shape, with four lower Eastern Shore counties, Dorchester, Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico, probably the best in sheer numbers. The four offer sika and whitetail deer species, though hunting on the best deer lands is private and permission to shoot is not always easy to get.
Either way, Cofield says that Maryland deer hunters will break last year's record of better than 12,000 deer. Just as in Virginia, Maryland deer herds are spreading far and wide. A population explosion is occurring.
"Have you studied the hunting booklet?" he asked. "A man could parlay the various liberal deer limits, counties and gun, archery and muzzleloader seasons into a 17-deer season. Although most hunters will be happy ;with one deer, I'm sure someone will lfigure out how to take full advantage of the deer bag limits.
We've pored over the booklet and haven't been able to come up with 17 legal deer, but Cofield says it can be done.
Virginia expects a decent fall wild turkey season. "They're hardy breed," said Crawford. "The season should be good even on public lands such as George Washington and Thomas jefferson national forets, and don't overlook Floyd County, a great area for wild turkeys." Maryland also is optimistic. "Our transplanting program with turkeys is doing great," said Cofield. Look for Washington County to be best for gobblers.
The ruffed grouse, a bird that commands immense loyalty from a select group of mountain hunters, will be in fair to good suply in Virginia. Not much change is predicted over last year. Maryland is only on the fringe of really good grouse cover. The outlook for grouse in the western counties is limited.
Wildlife officials also advise hunters to observe every game law in the book. Treat every gun with the utmost respect and be certain to receive written permission before entering private land. Why? Not only will it help foster good relations between the hunter and landowner, the states have already indicated that game wardens will be out in full force.