When Max Dubansky first moved to his farm about 15 years ago, he often saw about 100 deer in his fields.
“We were losing up to $1,000 in lettuce in one night,” Dubansky, 40, said. “Something had to give.”
Dubansky owns and operates Backbone Food Farm in Oakland. His farm is right up against woods, which makes it more vulnerable to hungry deer.
“Deer are responsible for $7 million to $8 million in crop damage each year,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Deer Project Leader Brian Eyler said.
But the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers a program to help farmers protect their crops against hungry ruminants.
Deer Management Permits are available at no cost to farmers who suffer economic loss from deer eating or damaging crops.
Those farmers with crop loss or damage can contact their county Department of Natural Resources representative who sends a technologist or a biologist to evaluate the property.
Based on the acreage, crops, damage, and the status of surrounding farms, the department issues a certain number of permits to the farmer. Each permit allows for a certain number of deer to be killed based on the department’s assessment.
If a farmer continues to suffer crop damage after the permitted kills are reached, they can apply to renew the permit.
“Permits are for antlerless deer only,” said Western Maryland Regional Wildlife Manager Jim Mullan.
Does are the primary targets for deer management because removing one doe essentially eliminates three deer for the next year, Mullan said.
“When you harvest a doe, you’re stopping that doe from any future reproduction,” Mullan said. “A healthy adult doe will produce about two fawns.”
However, Mullan said, farmers are allowed exceptions for antlered deer if orchards suffer from “rubbing;” when bucks rub antlers on trees to strip the velvety coating off new antler growth or during mating season, which is called the rut.
Mullan said the department tends to limit those exceptions so hunters in the regular season can shoot antlered deer, as many hunters strive to bag bucks with large antler racks.
Farmers who obtain permits can choose who hunts on their land — or can do the hunting themselves.
Eyler said a lot of these special permits are issued during the regular hunting season because it’s easier to get a deer that time of year.
The state issued 1,636 permits in 2012, and 1,655 in 2013. Though that’s just a 1 percent increase, hunters harvested 10 percent more deer via permits in 2013 — 8,505 vs. 7,650 in 2012.
Licensed hunters bagged 87,541 deer in the 2012-2013 season, and killed 95,865 in the 2013-2014 season — about a 9.5 percent increase.
Eyler said hunters who kill deer on a permit go through the same process as a regular-license kill — submitting a hunter ID number and registering the kill with the department — but must also submit the deer management permit number under which they killed the deer.
Once that process is taken care of, hunters can treat their harvest as if it were a regular-season kill.
Dubansky said an effective deer fence helped keep them out, but some still found their way to his crops.
“Once we got the fence up, there were problem deer (that found their way around the fence),” he said.
Deer that still got into his fields were taken care of with his permits.
While not a hunter, Dubansky says he thinks the program is great and has used about five permits a year to keep pesky deer out as well as allowing people to hunt on his property during the regular season.
“It’s an important tool for farmers,” Eyler said. “It gives them a tool for outside of the regular season.”
It also helps control the overall deer population in the state.
About 10 years ago, the population peaked at about 300,000, but last year’s fall estimate was about 227,000, Eyler said.
By Max Bennett