"In years past, on opening day we checked deer just about 'til midnight," said Jim Mingle, owner of B.J.'s Store near Swanton in Garrett County. "It would keep five or six people busy doing that, and we'd be selling chili dogs and hot soup and sandwiches. Plus a lot of people from Grantsville, Westernport and Piedmont, W.Va., would come out with their kids just to take pictures of deer. We're expecting all that to just about disappear."
He likened those days to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when shoppers swarm stores to buy holiday gifts that push big retailers into profitability. "It was a big, big, big financial day," Minogue said.
At Chestnut Ridge Amoco, just off Interstate 68 near Grantsville, owner Sid Turner projected deer-season sales could decline as much as 20 percent. He said he had ordered less beer, wine and sporting goods than last year, and he anticipated reducing his staff, based on the slower traffic he saw during the fall turkey season and the Nov. 12 Junior Deer Hunt. Turkey hunters also switched to the automated checking system this year.
"I think it's one of the biggest mistakes in retail that the state of Maryland has ever done," Turner said. "It's like a pastime, especially here in Garrett County, that first Saturday night when everybody goes to the local check-in and all the kids go and look at the deer."
Partly to console the merchants, the DNR created the Maryland Junior Hunter Certificate, a free document for successful hunters 16 and under who submit applications available at any of 29 participating businesses, including Turner's and Minogue's. About two dozen such certificates have been sought or awarded this fall, said Paul Peditto, director of the DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service.
Peditto said automated checking makes data collection more efficient by reducing the number of sites at which the DNR examines deer. In years past, the agency put workers at high-volume checking stations on opening day. This year, the DNR will gather the data at a smaller number of butcher shops where hunters bring deer for processing.