Dear Members of the Montgomery County Council Members:

I am the President of the Maryland Horse Council and a resident and landowner in Laytonsville, Montgomery County. I am writing in regards to the County’s consideration of expanding Sunday deer hunting in the County.
The Horse Council has been studying and advocating on this issue throughout the state for over 14 years. First off, I want to make it clear that the Horse Council is not opposed to hunting. Many of our members are hunters of deer, other game mammals and game birds. Many Horse Council members are also farmers, and are painfully aware of the enormous crop damage that deer inflict, as well as the problems of vehicle collisions and Lyme disease.

Through our years of studying Department of Natural Resources (DNR) data, we are unconvinced that recreational hunting is the best solution for the problem of deer overpopulation. These data reveal that despite expansion of Sunday hunting in some other jurisdictions, deer harvest numbers are dropping. (And given the widely acknowledged “ghost doe” problem, those numbers may actually be artificially inflated.) We have looked at DNR harvest numbers in Carroll and Frederick Counties – two counties that are fairly similar to Montgomery in climate, topography, demographics and development, and which have had a number of Sunday hunting days added in recent years. In both cases, the harvest numbers declined substantially after Sundays were added. It is sometimes argued that the declining numbers of recreational hunters is in part responsible for the declining harvest, but that begs the question of whether relying on recreational hunters is therefore “backing the wrong horse” in the effort to reduce the deer population. Adding Sundays demonstrably does not increase the harvest; it just affords recreational hunters the luxury of choosing which weekend day to devote to hunting. So adding Sundays is arguably more a matter of hunter convenience than sound deer management. Convenience is surely a benefit, but it is a benefit that should be available to all constituents, not just one segment. It is sometimes argued that recreational hunters need Sundays because they have other things to do on Saturdays – a situation that plainly applies to most of Montgomery County’s users of outdoor resources, be they hunters, birdwatchers, dog walkers, mountain bikers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and trail riders. So why should one group get special consideration – especially since, as the numbers clearly show, Sunday hunting does not increase the harvest? Where is the balancing of the public good?
We of course recognize that private land owners have some right to decide what uses they want to allow on their land. But such rights have never been absolute, as any review of zoning and land use rules can plainly establish. And, as a practical matter the public/private land distinction affords little relief since – especially in Montgomery County – public and private tracts are often relatively small, non-contiguous, intertwined and rarely well-marked.

The Horse Council wants to see actions that will be effective in solving the deer overpopulation problem. Here are just a few ideas for consideration, especially when considered in light of the goal of actually, effectively, reducing the deer population.

1) Studies show that the most effective means of reducing the herd is NOT recreational hunting, but managed hunts (sharp shooters).

2) Crop damage permits are not being fully utilized, and more needs to be done to increase their use. 

3) The Horse Council (in cooperation with the Maryland Farm Bureau) has actively pursued a “market hunting” bill that would allow (and establish a method for) the commercial sale of venison harvested under crop damage permits. Recreational Sunday hunting proponents and DNR oppose this, saying that it would be TOO effective in reducing the deer population. Surely, controls could be written into the plan to prevent the population from being too drastically reduced or eliminated, if that is a concern to some. Although there are some federal regulatory hurdles that would have to be overcome, we think this is a proposal that is worth pursuing.
All that being said, the Horse Council, in the interest of resolving this issue in a way that would be fair to all stakeholders, introduced a bill last session (SB 1061) that would allow hunting on all Sundays in the firearms season from one hour before sunrise until 10 am, leaving the afternoons for other users.The bill was late to come out of drafting and therefore did not make it out of Rules, but we intend to introduce it again this year, and we believe it will have support in the Legislature. 

We think this is a reasonable compromise that will give hunters the Sunday access they desire, preserve opportunity for other users on Sundays, and still afford landowners the the ability to lease their land out to recreational hunters if they so choose. The Horse Council would support a Montgomery County delegation bill that reflects this compromise position.
Thank you for your consideration.

Jane Seigler
Maryland Horse Council