Deer Hunting - A Valuable Management Tool for Private Landowners

Regulated hunting is the most effective and economical method of controlling deer populations in many locales. Over 60 years of experience and research confirm the effectiveness of deer hunting as a means of deer population control. In most situations, private landowners have the ability to regulate the deer harvest in order to reduce the level of deer damage on their land. The most successful deer management occurs when landowners play an active role.

Private landowners must strive with hunters to harvest appropriate numbers of deer to meet deer management goals. The key element is to have hunters taking adequate numbers to control the deer herd growth.

Deer populations are best managed when landowners utilize all Maryland hunting seasons. Deer seasons and bag limits are established for hunters using bows, modern firearms or muzzleloading firearms. Maryland's bow deer season usually opens in mid September and closes at the end of January. Firearms deer season traditionally opens the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day and runs for two weeks. Muzzleloader deer season usually is open in late October and for two weeks in late December and early January. By understanding these different seasons and hunting devices, a landowner can best address deer management goals. The annual Department of Natural Resources (DNR) publication "Hunting & Trapping in Maryland" describes the current deer hunting seasons and bag limits. This publication is available at the regional DNR offices listed below.

Tips For Landowners To Maximize Hunting Efficiency

What hunting seasons should be used?

All available hunting seasons should be used to maximize deer population management.

Bow Season: Archery deer hunting is a silent and discreet method of taking deer. Since bow hunters prefer to hunt out of elevated portable tree stands, arrows travel short distances before striking the ground. Archery hunters can hunt in sections of Maryland closed to firearms due to county or municipal ordinances. Open lands surrounded by development may be hunted tactfully by archers. Maryland bow hunters average a 35 percent success rate.

Firearm Season: Deer hunting with modern firearms is the most popular deer hunting method. The use of rifles or shotguns is closely regulated on a county by county basis. Many hunters schedule their vacation around this season. Over half of all deer harvested in Maryland are taken with firearms. Maryland firearm hunters have a 45% success rate.

Muzzleloader Season: Muzzleloader deer hunting continues to grow in popularity in Maryland. Muzzleloaders have an effective range similar to a shotgun. Muzzleloaders are fired once and must be reloaded. Improvements in muzzleloader technology have increased the effectiveness of this one shot firearm. Thirty-six percent of muzzleloader hunters take at least one deer across the state.

How can landowners find potential hunters?

Talk to hunters that are in your service club, your place of worship, your workplace or your hobby club. They may need a place to hunt or know of hunters that are looking for deer hunting property. Income from a hunting lease can help to offset the monetary losses from deer damage. Place a classified advertisement in a local newspaper which indicates that your farm is available for a deer hunting lease. Local sporting goods stores usually have areas where notices can be posted. Clubs also advertise their desire to lease properties at these locations.

Should landowners screen potential hunters on their property?

In order to attract ethical, safe and effective hunters, landowners may encourage hunters to have a certain level of experience and training. Suggest that hunters be graduates of Maryland's Hunter Education Course. Hunters that live close to the property may be able to hunt frequently, thus be more successful. Select hunters with a number of years of deer hunting experience. Require hunters under 16 years of age to be accompanied by an adult hunter.

How many hunters should be on property?

Have at least one hunter for each 25 acres of woodland open to hunting. It is possible to have a greater hunter density depending on the topography and surrounding property. During bow season, the density could be one bow hunter per 15 acres of woodland. Hunters should be distributed evenly across the property to maximize deer harvest. The most common error is to not have enough hunters distributed across the property.

How can hunter cooperation and safety be stressed?

Meet with individual hunters or the hunting club prior to each season. Maps can be distributed at the meeting to indicate hunting areas, hazards and safety zones. Any rules can be discussed at this meeting. Hunting areas can be assigned which will ensure an even distribution of hunters and increase safety. Requiring the use of portable tree stands can increase safety. Shots taken from elevated tree stands create a quick downward flight of bullets or arrows. In future years, written information concerning any land use changes may be supplied to a hunting club spokesman which reduces the need for an annual meeting. Chronic violators of property rules should be excused from the land.

How can the property owner encourage effective deer harvest?

Open as much of your property to hunting as you feel comfortable with. Deer hunting on 400 acres of a 500 acre farm will more effectively manage deer than hunting 100 acres of this farm. Hunter density (at least one hunter per 25 acres of woods) and hunter distribution across the property should be emphasized. Remember that the key element to controlling deer numbers is to harvest adequate numbers of does. Hunters may be limited to taking no more than one antlered buck during each season (bow, firearm and muzzleloader). Hunters may be required to take an antlerless deer before harvesting an antlered buck during each season. Suggest that the hunting club have deer drive hunts using unarmed drivers near the end of the two week firearms season. Request copies of the possession tags for deer taken off of the farm.

There are many different ways for landowners to encourage adequate doe deer harvest. Some landowners make the hunting lease renewal dependent on a certain level of doe harvest. Other landowners have been successful by increasing the overall lease cost and then allowing the club to reduce it to an approved minimum level by harvesting a set number of does. The options are only limited by safety, the imagination of the landowner and hunting club and the deer hunting regulations.

How does the landowner handle trespass problems?

Make sure that boundary lines are properly marked and maintained. Signs can be used to mark property boundaries. Signs may read "Hunting by Permission Only", "Posted: No Trespassing", or "Posted: Big Doe Hunting Club".

Maryland law also allows property owners to use bright blue oil base paint on trees to mark property boundaries. The paint mark must be a vertical mark at least 2 inches wide and at least 8 inches in length. The mark must be at least 3 feet from the ground but no more than 6 feet high. An observer should be able to see marks to his left and right when standing between marked trees. Your hunters can assist with boundary maintenance.

Issue a signed "Permission to Hunt" card to each hunter. All deer hunters must have written permission in order to deer hunt. Require hunters to provide you with tag numbers of their vehicles. Become familiar with the local Natural Resources Police Officer and prosecute all hunting and trespass violations. Members of the hunting club will be pleased to help you enforce trespass violations.

How can a landowner protect himself against potential liability related to deer hunting?

Lawsuits brought by hunters against consenting landowners are extremely rare. The following suggestions will help to further reduce the limited likelihood of any legal proceedings. Indicate on the property map any potential hazards. Hazards may include abandoned wells, old gravel pits, sink holes, cliffs or vacant buildings. If you are not sure if a feature is a hazard, place it on map to be safe. Make sure that all recreating on your property receive a copy of the map.

If you lease your property to a hunting club, require the club to acquire liability insurance coverage for hunting activities. This liability insurance will provide coverage for the landowner in the rare occurrence of a lawsuit. Contact your insurance agent for information regarding hunting liability insurance. Your hunting club may have access to liability insurance through non-profit conservation organizations.

More detailed information on landowner liability can be found in the publication "Landowner Liability and Recreational Access," which you may download for free from the University of MD, Cooperative Extension Service". This publication can also be purchased from your local county Cooperative Extension Service office (see the government pages of the phone book in the County Government section under Extension Service).

How can the deer management program be evaluated?

Damage to crops will stabilize and then decline when adequate numbers of deer are removed from the property. If hunter pressure is relatively stable, hunter success rates will generally follow deer population trends. As deer numbers stabilize and decline, the numbers of deer taken by the hunters will stabilize and then drop. If crop damage continues to increase and/or hunters success rate climbs, additional antlerless deer need to be removed. Be patient. It may take two to three years before you notice reduced crop damage.

Well managed deer hunting will effectively manage deer numbers when conducted on an annual basis. Using the preceding standards will provide for a professional and friendly relationship between the landowner and the hunting group. Hunters appreciate the opportunity to hunt and will cooperate with reasonable rules such as the ones indicated. A balanced hunting program will reduce trespass and littering problems as well as provide for effective deer management.

For Additional Information:

  • Western Regional Office (Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties): 3 Pershing Street; Room 110; Cumberland, MD 21502; 301-777-2136.
  • Central Regional Office (Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Harford, Howard, Montgomery counties and Baltimore City): 2 South Bond St.; Bel Air, MD 21014; 410-836-836-4552.
  • Eastern Regional Office (Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, Worcester counties): P.O. Box 68, Wye Mills MD 21679; 410-827-8612.
  • Southern Regional Office and Headquarters (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George's, St. Mary's counties): Tawes State Office Building, E-1; 580 Taylor Ave.; Annapolis, MD 21401; 410-260-8540.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recognizes the positive benefits of hunting through the DNR Hunting Policy described below.

Maryland DNR Hunting Policy: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is dedicated to helping people enjoy nature and live in harmony with our natural resources. Our goal is to maintain vibrant natural communities, with abundant wildlife resources, and diverse outdoor opportunities for recreation and economic growth.

It is the policy of DNR to conserve and manage the wildlife resources of the State to provide safe and enjoyable hunting opportunities to the citizens of Maryland and its visitors, to manage and make available for public use and enjoyment the lands with which it has been entrusted and to improve the public's understanding and interest in the State's wildlife resources through information and outreach programs.

DNR carries out educational and training programs to improve awareness, appreciation and conservation of Maryland's natural resources. Through coordinated programs, such as hunter education, and the provision of other recreational opportunities such as "Becoming an Outdoors Woman," our objective is to encourage sportsmanship, instill an environmental ethic and promote public safety.

Revenues from hunting licenses and federal excise taxes on hunting equipment provide for the scientific investigation, conservation, protection and management of wildlife, as well as the training of safe and ethical hunters.

Your stewardship and thoughtful use of our natural resources, as partners, will continue to enhance the high quality of living that we enjoy in Maryland.

Document prepared by:
L. Douglas Hotton
Contact: Brian Eyler, Deer Project Leader
Game Program
Wildlife and Heritage Service
Maryland Department of Natural Resource
Phone: 301-842-0332