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Hunting in Maryland shifts toward trophy deer, away from private land

Maryland hunting has evolved throughout the years with today’s steady population of white-tailed deer and a significant number of sika deer. Yet changes to land use have created new challenges.  

Maryland hunting license sales also peaked in about 1975 and have mostly been declining since, with 120,814 sold in 2019.  

Jamie Wink, owner of Wink Sporting Goods in Princess Anne, gets a gun ready for a customer.

Maryland opted to restock white-tailed deer in the first half of the 20th century. Since then, the deer population has increased, reaching almost 300,000 in the early 2000s. It’s averaged about 225,000 over the past few years, according to Brian Eyler, Maryland Department of Natural Resources deer project manager. 

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Maryland’s Eastern Shore counties also have a population of sika deer, especially in Dorchester County and on Assateague Island. There are also populations in Wicomico, Caroline and Somerset counties, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  

With their impressive antlers, sika deer are popular with people less concerned with feeding their family and more interested in a trophy. The aging hunter population prefers white-tailed deer with large racks, too.

“There’s a lot more trophy hunters out there. There are different stages a hunter will go through, and when you’re older, you’re more choosy with what you shoot,” said Jamie Wink, owner of Wink’s Sporting Goods in Princess Anne. 

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A Maryland resident hunting license costs $24.50. It covers up to 15 white-tailed deer (by bow, the limit is lower with other weapons), including up to two antlered (taken by two different weapons). A third antlered deer is an extra $10.  

Maryland also requires stamps to hunt via bow or muzzleloader, $6 apiece. It’s $9 more to hunt migratory birds, plus the $25 federal duck stamp.  

As can be seen across Delmarva and the nation, Maryland hunters are dealing with a lack of access to private land. 

Hunter Tony Collins, of Eden, lamented diminishing access to private land.

“A lot of guys come into the shop looking for … pieces available for lease,” Wink said. “It’s not like it used to be, where you were doing the farmer a favor.” 

“Forty years ago, you could go knock on a door, anybody would let you hunt. Now it’s all about money,” said hunter Tony Collins of Eden. 

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Like Delaware and other states, Maryland has purchased a large amount of wildlife conservation land that can be hunted. The Wildlife & Heritage Service oversees 61 wildlife management areas in Maryland, which total over 123,000 acres.   

“You can’t drive on the state property, which I understand,” Collins said. “But people my age, and I have a heart condition, too, they can’t tote deer stands in there and drag a deer out.”  

Wink agreed. 

“There’s a lot of public land in Somerset County, but it isn’t hunted like it should be because of the access,” he said. 

There’s more than one reason Natural Resources doesn’t allow vehicles in wildlife management areas. First, much of the land in those areas is wet. 

“On the Eastern Shore, we don’t really have solid ground. Certainly not in the winter during deer season,” said Eastern Region manager John Moulis. “We haven’t found an easy way to ensure … they don’t go back when it’s too wet and tear things up.” 

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Also, unlike in states like Delaware, wildlife management areas don’t have lotteries or deer stands. They’re first-come, first-serve, and they aren’t staffed, so there’s no one there regularly to ensure rules are being followed. 

“We’ve resisted going to reservation systems because they’re labor intensive,” Moulis said. “You have to have someone answering the phone and on the computer.”