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James Drake

Last Thursday, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources released the official numbers from the 2012-13 statewide deer season that ran Sept. 7 to Jan. 31.

As was fully expected, Maryland hunters killed significantly fewer deer this season than last.

In fact, the numbers now have been falling for the past few years.

The record high is 100,663, set in the 2009-10 season, followed by 98,663 for the 2010-11 deer hunting year. It was essentially the same (98,029) last time around.

For 2012-13, the total number of deer killed by Maryland hunters, during all three seasons (bow, muzzleloader and modern firearm) dropped to 87,541, which was an almost 11 percent decline from the previous hunting year.

Are these falling numbers a cause for concern? I don’t think so.

The Chinese are now into their year of the snake, but last year could have been rightly called the year of the nuts in Maryland.

The acorn crop across our state was simply profuse last year, with our oak trees dropping more than twice the normal number of acorns. This protein-rich food is actually preferred by most deer over corn and soybeans, so there was little need for the herd to move out of the dense cover of the forests into more “hunter friendly” places like open farm fields.

Many savvy hunters reported seeing fewer deer than in most previous years, but I don’t believe it was because there actually was a smaller statewide herd. Rather, the deer just didn’t move around very much.

I believe the abundant acorns are the main reason for the decline in deer taken during the 2012-13 season.

Statewide, hunters took far more antlerless deer than antlered — 57,048 vs. 30,493 — which should only help continue to stabilize the herd.

In Southern Maryland, Calvert County hunters killed 1,738 deer, while Charles County’s total was 3,603 and St. Mary’s County’s tally was 2,682.

Statewide, Frederick County led the state with 7,634 deer kills, followed by Baltimore County (5,991) and Washington County (5,762).

Duck stamps

It is estimated that there are about 1.2 million waterfowl hunters throughout America.

Since 1934, we have all been required to purchase a federal duck stamp, and 98 percent of all this money goes directly to conservation, mainly to support the National Wildlife Refuge system and purchase additional waterfowl-friendly land.

A federal duck stamp costs each hunter $15.

According to The Birding Wire, 1,517,647 stamps were sold during the 2011-12 fiscal year and more than $750 million has been generated through duck stamp sales since 1934.

This money is mainly spent to purchase or lease more than six million acres of wetland habitat that benefits not only waterfowl but numerous songbirds, marsh birds, shore birds, raptors, mammals, fish and reptiles that rely on these important wetlands to flourish.

Some birders, not just waterfowl hunters, are starting to buy federal duck stamps because they realize the monies generated benefit far more critters than just waterfowl.

If you’d like to get on this bandwagon, and especially if you’re interested in birds, you might consider buying a duck stamp yourself.

You may purchase them online at or at most Post Offices and National Wildlife Refuges.

As a plus, a federal duck stamp is an entrance pass for national wildlife refuges, and the artwork alone is beautiful.

Bird Count sets records

Speaking of birds, the Great Backyard Bird Count, which was held Feb. 15 to 18, went global this year and set all kinds of records for participation and numbers of birds tallied.

It was the largest worldwide bird count in history, and participants counted more than 25.5 million birds on 120,000 checklists in four days, recording 3,144 different species.

The top-five most reported bird species were the Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker and House Finch.

The top-five most abundant species were Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling and American Coot.

Also noteworthy were the great numbers of northern finch species that moved down into the United States from Canada, and some Northern Lapwings, more typically seen in Europe, were discovered in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Hurricane Sandy is thought to have blown a few of those birds ashore in America.

Burmese pythons

The 2013 Python Challenge, held in the Florida Everglades from Jan. 12 to Feb. 10, yielded scores of Burmese pythons.

These invasive snakes, thought to have been either released by hobbyists or decedents of escapees from pet stores when Hurricane Andrew blew ashore, have been thriving in the Florida environment for the past several years.

Nearly 1,600 people from 38 states, the District of Columbia and Canada took part in the challenge to see who could find and kill the most and largest of these snakes.

Sixty-eight Burmese pythons were taken this year, the largest being a 14-foot, 3-inch beast.

Classic results

Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., 32, won the 2013 Bassmaster Classic held on Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, just outside of Tulsa, Okla., last weekend with a three-day catch of 54 pounds, 12 ounces.

“This is the ultimate high of a career — a life changing moment,” Pace said after the victory was settled.

Pace explained that he caught all his bass on Jackall jerkbaits, either a Squad Minnow or Soul Shad. He also threw a Jackall DD cherry crankbait and a B & M Football jig with a Twin Tail trailer. For his efforts, Pace collected a check for $500,000. The other top-five fishermen, in order, were Brandon Palanick, Hank Cherry, Mike Iaconelli and Mike McClelland.

Television coverage of this 43rd World Championship of Bass Fishing will be on ESPN2 on March 2 and 3.

Yellow perch watch

The annual spawning run of yellow perch should just be getting underway now in many of Maryland’s tidal waters. Fishermen have already been making good catches up at Jug Bay in the Patuxent River, and Charles County’s Allen’s Fresh should be getting plenty of action very soon.

Recreational fishermen may keep up to 10 yellow perch per day with a nine-inch minimum size.