My elbows, knees and belly were soaked by the time I'd crawled 30 yards out
into the soggy, winter-wheat field to the crest of a small rise that allowed me
to look downhill to the woods edge.
Feeding there on the succulent green shoots
just beginning to poke out of the soil was a dandy 8-pointer, with towering
G-2s, and I desperately wanted to take him with my in-line muzzleloader.
I eased my muzzleloader into position while the deer watched me, trained the
crosshairs on the big buck's shoulder and flicked off the safety. Through the
thick cloud of smoke that followed my shot, I saw the buck lurch into the woods
and crash to the ground. The 130-class buck is the finest buck I've ever shot
with a muzzleloader, and the biggest I've taken on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Deer Hunting Maryland: Eastern Shore The Best
"We've always known the Eastern Shore is our best deer area in
Maryland," said Doug Hotton, deer project leader for Maryland's Department
of Natural Resources (DNR). "You've got quality natural vegetation there
and great farmland. That's a winning combination anywhere."
The Eastern Shore encompasses nine counties wedged between Chesapeake
Bay and Delaware. This region is relatively sparsely populated, primarily flat,
and heavily farmed, or covered with marsh woodlands. Add mild winters and the
absence of predators, and it's easy to understand why the area is fast becoming
a deer-hunting Mecca.
"These deer live the good life," said Ken Schrader, owner of
Schrader's Hunting, which is one of the oldest guiding operations on the
Eastern Shore. "That's why they grow so big."
While Maryland DNR officials and local hunters have long known about the
fantastic deer hunting on the Eastern Shore, only recently has word begun to
spread to the outside world. Historically, the Eastern Shore has been known
across the nation for its waterfowl hunting. Through the 1960s, 1970s and
1980s, the Eastern Shore was heralded as "the goose hunting capital of the
world," drawing waterfowlers from all over North America.
Deer moved out of the back seat on the Eastern Shore and into the driver's
chair in 1995. That's when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) shut down all hunting seasons for five years for migratory Canada geese in Maryland and
other states along the East Coast, citing a steep decline in the goose
Practicing Deer Management
As the deer-hunting craze spread like wildfire across the Shore over the past
decade, hunter attitudes have changed from an interest in just bagging any buck
to bagging only big bucks.
"We are seeing a lot of hunters practicing quality deer management,''
Schrader said he's had antler restrictions in place on the farms he owns and
leases for 19 years. Hunters on Schrader's restricted farms are limited to
taking only bucks with at least eight points on racks that stretch as wide as a
"I know a lot of clubs and other guides in our area have the same
restrictions," he said. "That's good for all of us."
Of Maryland's six record-book categories for whitetails -- there are typical
and non-typical classes for bucks taken with firearm, bow and muzzleloader --
three are topped by Eastern Shore bucks.
The 194-inch buck Kevin Miller shot in 2002 in Kent County tops the Typical
Gun category; the 199-3/8-inch buck William Shields shot in 2001 in Talbot
County tops the Non-typical Muzzleloader category; and Petey Councell's
183-3/8-inch buck shot in 1994 in Talbot County tops the Typical Bow category.
In each of the other three categories, Eastern Shore bucks rank in second
Quality Guide Services Available
So what opportunities are available on the Eastern Shore for the traveling
hunter? Well, there are a few guide services, such as Schrader's. Type
"Maryland deer hunting" into any search engine on the Internet, and
you'll come up with a number of websites that will link you to those services.
Schrader's website is www.schradershunting.com, or call 410-778-1895.
There are about 40 public lands on the Eastern Shore where deer hunting is
permitted. These lands, which are controlled by county, state and federal
agencies, range in size from the 77-acre Welch Point property in Cecil County
to the 28,518-acre Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area in Dorchester County.
You can view a list of these lands and their associated restrictions on
Maryland's DNR website at www.dnr.state.md.us. You can also call the DNR
headquarters for more information at 410-260-8540.
For a fine selection of Big Game Hunting gear, click here.