New legislation would decrease bow and arrow safety zones from 150 yards to 100.
The Montgomery County Council is scheduled to discuss a measure Thursday to expand the area in which archers can hunt deer.
The new bill would allow hunters to shoot deer with a bow and arrow without a property owner’s permission as long as both the hunter and deer are 100 yards or more away from a structure. That would be 50 yards less than current rules.
In essence, the legislation would allow archers to hunt deer in closer proximities to private residences and buildings. With a property owner’s permission, archers can hunt deer on public and private property with a hunting license.
“The current situation with the deer population and the incredible number of deer-vehicle collisions is an inhumane situation,” said at-large Councilmember George Leventhal, the bill’s sponsor. “Most of those collisions end in a violent death for the deer.”
Leventhal said he was involved in a deer-vehicle collision in November 2007.
Maryland’s deer population peaked at 300,000 in 2011 and leveled out at 230,000 since then, said Paul Peditto, director of the wildlife and heritage service at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. But those decreases have come in the western part of the state, where ecosystems can support more deer and where hunting regulations have eased, he said.
“It’s a balancing act for us,” Peditto said. “But we know in central Maryland the deer population is at a place that the people and environment can’t sustain.”
The bill in front of the Council comes on the heels of a similar measure passed by the General Assembly in March that authorized decreasing the size of safety zones by individual jurisdictions.
Frederick and Carroll counties have 50-yard safety zones. Statewide, bow hunting is prohibited within 300 yards of a school. Fairfax County, Va., does not have safety zones for bow hunters.
Peditto said hunting is the most effective way to cull the deer population. Maryland archers take 100,000 deer per year, he said. When the General Assembly expanded Sunday hunting by only a couple of days, archers killed an average of 500 deer on those Sundays, he said.
“We’ve thrown the kitchen sink at managing our deer herd,” Peditto said. “We’ve worked hard to remove barriers for hunters who are effective in helping reduce the population.”
Leventhal and Peditto both said it would be difficult to track the effect a smaller safety zone would have on the deer population. Peditto said most hunters wouldn’t be able to say if an extra 50 yards would help them hit a target.
Leventhal said he believes the legislation would be more effective if the safety zone was decreased even more.
“The range of a bow and arrow is 40 to 50 yards, so I think the 100-yard safety zone is too much,” Leventhal said.
The original bill in front of the state legislature called for a 50-yard safety zone, but that distance was amended in committee.
Violators of the law are subject to a $200 to $300 fine, Peditto said.
According to DNR, there are 2,000 deer-vehicle collisions each year in Montgomery County. A non-hunter has never been injured by a bow hunter in Maryland, Peditto said.
“This is one of the safest sports in the entire country, and what we’re looking for is the opportunity to turn this sport into a public service,” Montgomery County Civic Federation past president Peggy Dennis said during testimony in front of the Council on Tuesday.
Council President Craig Rice proposed a special session Thursday to discuss the deer population problem in greater depth before a scheduled public safety committee vote.