If you were to kidnap a bowhunter in Illinois, blindfold the guy and drive him to a farm on Chesapeake Bay before setting him free, he'd be slightly confused. (He'd also be more than slightly livid, but that's another story.)
The guy's first thought might be to suspect someone had just driven him in a huge circle — because where he's standing looks pretty much like home. Lush soybean and corn fields are interspersed with quaint farmhouses and patches of woods.
That's a broad but largely correct description of Maryland's best whitetail areas. This part of the nation looks a lot like the Midwest. And yes, it produces whitetails of similar antler and body size. It's just that you just don't hear or read nearly as much about them as you do big bucks from America's heartland way to the west.
My own introduction to Maryland bowhunting came in October 2008. I hunted the northern part of the Eastern Shore with Kenny Schrader.
North American Whitetail TV cameraman Mike Clerkin and I set up a pop-up blind on the edge of a cut bean field, and on Halloween morning I rattled and decoyed in a ghoulish whitetail: a wide, mature 3x3 with the neck and shoulders of an NFL tackle. While the bull-bodied deer lacked enough tines to make him a Pope & Young qualifier, he was in every other way a true trophy.
On the Eastern Shore — and the often-overlooked Western Shore, for that matter — lush crops give deer the raw ingredients to exist in both size and numbers. But few hunters seem to know it. Unless they live in Maryland or already hunt there, they likely don't know this is the East Coast's best-kept whitetail secret.
"Our Coastal Plain soils that form a horseshoe around Chesapeake Bay are some of the best in the country for growing big deer," says Department of Natural Resources Deer Project Leader Brian Eyler. "The soils, combined with extensive corn and soybean farming in that region create a perfect recipe for antler growth and large body size."
Maryland's P&Y entries back him up. Some big whitetails are arrowed in the much more rugged and heavily forested western part of the state, but relatively huge numbers of them come from around the nation's most historic bay.
Anne Arundel, Kent and Queen Anne's counties are among the best of the best for trophies in bow season. But in reality, anywhere you find cropland and woods lying in close proximity to each other, a P&Y whitetail is a distinct possibility.
What might the future hold for bowhunters in the state?
"I don't necessarily foresee a shift in trophy-hunting areas," Eyler replies. "But I will say that our urban counties in the Baltimore-Washington corridor also offer very good deer-hunting opportunities. Access can be challenging, but many quality bucks come out of those counties as well."
For more information on P&Y whitetails and other archery big-game trophies from across North America, visit Pope & Young Club.