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Without stations, deer season's not what it used to be

November 25, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It was the first day of rifle season, and the parking lot was almost empty at Keystone Country Store in Hagerstown.

"Normally, this lot would have been completely full," shop owner Tim Stahl said.

The change, Stahl said, came two years ago, when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources updated the procedure for hunters checking in their kills.

Deer that once had to be taken to a certified checking station, usually a small store such as Keystone, now can be registered online or over the phone.

The result has been both a decline in sales and the loss of a tradition at small country shops that once served as gathering places for hunters and others to marvel at the day's best kills.

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"Some people still bring their deer in to weigh, but we have a lot less folks doing that now," Stahl said.

Jack Murray, owner of Murray's Sports Center in Williamsport, agreed.

"We used to have people come in and hang out just to see the kills," Murray said. "Now, it's just in and out to get supplies or whatever."

State officials said they changed the check-in process to make it faster and save taxpayers money.

To help businesses affected by the change, the Department of Natural Resources started a sweepstakes-style contest last year that can be played at many former checking stations.

The goal of the contest was to "reinvigorate some of the camaraderie of the former check-station model," said Bob Beyer, associate director of the DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service

But shop owners said Saturday that the contest, which features a top prize of $500 worth of sporting goods, has not brought people back into their stores.

"Nobody pays attention to that thing," Stahl said. "Most people don't even know what it is."

James Turner of Williamsport, who was walking into Keystone to buy ammunition and other supplies, said he missed the camaraderie of the old checking stations.

"It was kind of a place to show off, to be honest," Turner said. "You bring in your kill and see how you stacked up. Now, you just pick up a phone and dial it in. It's not near as much fun."

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