Maryland's exotic sika deer (pronounced SEE-kuh) is native to southern Japan, and first appeared on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore when Clement Henry released them on James Island in 1916.
Today, sika deer (Cervus nippon yakushimae) inhabit all of the lower Eastern Shore counties, with the highest density located in the
marshes and wetlands of southern Dorchester County. Sika deer were also released and established populations on Assateague Island during the 1920's.
Maryland biologists and deer managers first worried that the
“miniature elk” would expand into the upland territory of native white-tailed
deer. This resulted in higher bag limits being set so that hunters would be
encouraged to harvest and control the sika deer population. However, over the
years, managers have learned that the sika predominantly lives most of its life
in the sub optimal regions of the white-tailed deer's habitat; apparently
lessening competition between the species. Thus, the Wildlife and Heritage
Service's (WHS) management techniques have changed somewhat towards the sika deer.
Sika deer are now managed to keep the population at its
"cultural carrying capacity" (meaning the maximum number of deer that can
co-exist, compatibly, with local landowners and native species). Current
population levels appear to be low enough to ensure crop damage is
minimized, while still providing plenty of hunting opportunities for
sportsmen and women.
WHS biologists initiated a tagging study in 1988 to obtain
important information on harvest rates, longevity, and movements of sika
deer. The average distance traveled by sika males (stags), as measured by
comparing tagging location to recovery location, was 2.7 miles. Sika females
(hinds) were recovered an average of 1.3 miles from the tagging location.
Surprisingly, some of these tagged deer are still alive today (10+ years
A radio-telemetry study was also conducted on Dorchester
County sika deer, and revealed that most sika hinds had a home range of
about 150 acres and moved about a half-mile between bedding and feeding
areas. Sika stags had much larger home ranges, often greater than 500 acres, and depending on the time
of the year, moved much longer distances in a given day. Habitat use by sika deer and white-tailed deer differed markedly
during the study. Sika deer preferred marshes and thick, forested wetlands, whereas white-tailed deer
preferred the more common agricultural and upland areas.
In addition to the habitat and movement studies, WHS, in
cooperation with the University of Maryland Appalachian Environmental
Laboratory, conducted a reproductive study to determine the breeding age of
sika deer and the number of calves born per hind by age class. It was found
that 24% of the six-month old calves were pregnant, and 76% of the adults
were pregnant -- all of which contained a single fetus, except for one
adult, which was carrying twins.
The popularity of sika deer hunting in Maryland has increased
markedly over the last decade. The challenge of the hunt, their uniqueness as a trophy, and the excellent
flavored venison they provide, has resulted in a steadily increasing
harvest. Hunters interested in pursuing the elusive sika will find the field-dressed weights of yearling
females to average 45lbs, with 53lbs the average dressed weight for yearling males. A big stag will dress
Sika deer differ in looks from native white-tailed deer.
They are shorter in stature -- adults stand about 2 ½ feet at the
rump. Their coat tends to be reddish brown during summer months, and dark
brown to black in color during winter. Even as adults they have white spots, mainly running parallel down
their back. Stags generally have a dark, shaggy mane running down their
neck, and their antlers are narrow and sweep backwards rather than forwards
like the white-tail's antlers. A 6-point stag is a trophy, with 8-pointers being extremely rare. Finally, unlike
white-tailed deer that raise their tail like a flag when alarmed, sika deer
have a round white rump patch that flares outward when they are excited or
Because sika deer are primarily nocturnal and inhabit marshy
terrain, hunting can be very challenging and sometimes difficult. Therefore,
the sika rut that occurs in mid-October is considered to produce the best
chance to harvest an adult stag. During this time, males become very vocal
by "bugling." These bugles usually consist of a series of three
whistles, heard primarily during early morning and late afternoon. Stags
during the rut define their breeding territories by making wallows --
scraped out depressions in the earth that are urinated in and wallowed in,
causing the stags to smell strongly of urine. The rut generally results in
increased movements by stags during the day, which can increase the odds of
seeing one during legal hunting hours.
Both male and female sika deer use vocalizations to communicate. The "bark" they emit when alarmed is most distinct. Hinds often
communicate with their calves using soft bleats and whistles. By mastering
some sika vocalizations, hunters can increase their chances of bagging a
stag during the rut. A hunter can also increase his or her luck by hunting
on edges and gaps within patches of phragmites located between marsh and
woodland terrains. Sika deer often use phragmites as movement corridors
between feeding and bedding areas.
Although sika deer do not appear to rely on agricultural
crops as heavily as white-tailed deer, they still respond favorably to
agricultural food resources. Thus, many of the management techniques used for white-tailed deer (i.e., food
plots, warm season grasses, etc.) also work well for sika deer. Sika deer
also rely on mast during fall and winter, thus acorn-producing oaks are an
important component of the forest overstory in sika habitat. Other common
foods of sika deer include poison ivy, catbrier, and marshgrass.
Choosing hunting areas that provide some of these food sources may
aid your hunting success.
Two state Wildlife Management Area's (WMA's) in Dorchester
County offer sika hunting opportunities. For information about the
1,000-acre Taylor's Island WMA or the 20,000+-acre Fishing Bay WMA, call the district office at LeCompte WMA: 410-376-3236.
Blackwater National Wildlife refuge allows permit hunts. For
more information call 410-228-2677.
Along the ocean in Worcester County, Assateague Island National Seashore allows a full season of sika hunting with separate bag limits from the state. For more information, call 410-641-3030.
Bag limits and other regulations are listed for sika deer in the Guide to Hunting and Trapping in Maryland.
In addition to holding a Maryland hunting license, the following items are a must for hunting sika deer: insect repellant, hip boots, a boat or canoe (strongly recommended on public hunting lands) and, most important of all, time, patience, and a little luck.
580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis MD 21401
Call toll-free in *Maryland* at 1-877-620-8DNR (8367)
Out of State: 410-260-8DNR (8367)