An interesting dichotomy is brewing between two neighboring counties in suburban Maryland.
On the one hand is Howard County, which, as we’ve reported recently, is in the process of tightening its rules on where hunters can hunt in light of a hunting accident on Dec. 10. On the other is Montgomery County, which, until recently, has had some of the state’s most restrictive hunting regulations. Now, Montgomery County is beginning to loosen some of those laws, in large part to residents’ frustration with the county’s overabundant deer population.
The result of that Dec. 10 accident, where a hunter’s stray shotgun slug smashed into the window of a daycare center in Clarksville, is Howard County Bill No. 1-2009 (CB1-2009), which aims to increase Howard County’s hunting safety zone from the state-mandated 150 yards to 300 yards. Shooting would also be prohibited within 100 yards of a public road.
But the bill doesn’t stop there. It also precludes a hunter from discharging a firearm in the direction of any dwelling, house, residence, camp, or other building designed for human occupancy “within the maximum range of the gun being discharged.” CB1-2009 is a knee-jerk reaction to one hunter’s carelessness, and, in a populous county like Howard, such language could virtually sweep away decades worth of hunting tradition.
As it currently stands, the proposed ordinance is utterly unenforceable, and an editorial in the Baltimore Sun said as much on Jan. 7. A gun’s maximum range (here we’re talking about shotguns, as Howard County is shotgun only for deer hunting) is dependent upon so many different factors that no law enforcement officer could possibly say if a hunter is breaking the law or not. The gauge of the gun, type of ammunition being used, wind, temperature, age of the gun and elevation are all factors that can determine a gun’s maximum range. Plus, an officer would need a range finder to know exactly how far a hunter is from a building.
But the Baltimore Sun only got it half right. The paper went on to suggest that a complete hunting ban in the Howard County Metropolitan District—the heavily populated eastern half of the county—would be a better bet to ensure the safety of residents. The paper also suggested that hunting be banned in developed areas outside of the Metropolitan District.
Hunting on tracts of land smaller than 10 acres is already prohibited inside the Metropolitan District. If passed as currently written, CB1-2009 would carry that 10-acre requirement to all of Howard County, thus making hunting illegal in many areas currently used by hunters.
If CB1-2009 becomes law, no one will hunt in Howard County anymore because it won’t be worth the bother. Maybe that’s what elected officials want. Yet, if anyone in Howard County wants to see what happens when you drive out hunters, they need look no further than across the county line.
Montgomery County, Md., situated just outside of Washington D.C, is one of the fastest growing counties in the country. As Montgomery County became more developed, laws popped up to restrict hunting in the name of public safety. As the laws became more numerous, hunting became more difficult.
Over time, Montgomery County residents have discovered that when you drive out all the hunters, you become overrun with deer. That overpopulation leads to increased deer-auto collisions, ruined gardens, decimated shrubbery, and the increased risk of Lyme disease. It’s also unhealthy for the deer herd.
Montgomery County is now trying to bring hunters back.
Last spring, the Montgomery County Council overturned some of its more stringent hunting regulations in the urban southern stretches of the county, largely the area from Germantown to the Washington D.C. border. No longer must hunters obtain special permission from the police to hunt with firearms on land parcels at least 50 acres in size. The hunting safety zone was decreased from 200 yards to the statewide standard of 150 yards. And the requirement that bowhunters be at least 100 yards from any road was lifted, opening countless new woodlots to bowhunting.
In a county populated largely by affluent city slickers, residents have become more accepting of hunting, even reaching the point of asking county leaders to do more to thin the deer herd. Now, with some of the county’s hunting restrictions gone, hunters are once again doing a large portion of that work.
The hunting restrictions being proposed in Howard County are perhaps even more restrictive than those that sent Montgomery County’s deer population through the roof. It’s important to note that both counties have experienced similar growth patterns. If Howard residents allow such changes to be instituted, hunting will be all but gone, but the deer will remain. And for those in the county that think there are too many deer already, they haven’t seen anything yet.
That’s a fate Montgomery County residents know all too well—and a mistake they’re slowly trying to fix.
The Howard County Council is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, Jan. 21 to discuss CB1-2009.