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Hunters to call in Harvest

For the first time deer to be checked online or by phone

For the first time deer to be checked online or by phone

November 30, 1999|By DAVID DISHNEAU

Hunters won't be lining up to register their kills at country stores and sport shops today, the first day of Maryland's firearm deer season. Rural families won't flock to the businesses to see trophy bucks brought in. And some of the merchants who used to earn a dollar a deer as official game-checking stations will instead be tallying their reduced sales and wondering whether it's worth staying open in the fall and early winter.

This is the first season in which hunters must register deer kills online or by calling a toll-free number instead of taking the game to one of more than 100 checking stations for verification. The Department of Natural Resources says the change, announced in March, will cut the cost and simplify the process of collecting deer herd data.

But the end of the 74-year-old system also ends decades of tradition in rural areas where the first day of deer season typically brought dollars as well as bucks to mom-and-pop businesses.

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"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.

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