Hunting Maryland’s Free Range Sika

When I walked up on him I could not believe how big he was, both in body size (95 lbs. field dressed) and antler size.

 Thanks to JACK BOSHOVEN for this great piece!

Before moving to Maryland in 2004, I had never heard of huntable populations of wild sika deer in the United States.  However, after moving to here I soon learned from new found friends and hunting partners from church that the state of Maryland has two types of wild, free roaming deer living with-in its borders, the native white-tailed deer and exotic sika deer.  They had invited me to apply with them to hunt on the Blackwater National Wildlife refuge.  One of the prized game that roam the swamps of Blackwater NWR is the sika deer.

Maryland sika deer are originally from Yakushima Island in southern Japan and can be found in the marshes, swamps, wet woodlands, and agricultural fields in portions of Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore, where Blackwater is located.  Sika deer became established on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore after being released by two individuals during the early 1900s. Exactly how they initially made their way from Japan to the Eastern Shore is unknown; however, it is believed that just six deer were released.

Biological data collected by Maryland’s DNR show that the average field-dressed weight of a 1.5 year-old male sika deer is 53 pounds, while 3.5+ year-old males top 80 pounds. Sika stags that are 3.5+ years of age average 5.5 antler points, while 2.5 year-old deer have 4.1 points.  Field-dressed yearling (1.5 years old) females average 45 pounds and 3.5+ year-old females weigh in around 60 pounds.

Having never hunted in a swamp in my life, much less sika deer, I had no idea how to hunt them.  My friends had been at this a few years before I arrived, but had not been very successful as they were still learning the game.  When the fall of 2010 rolled around, once again we put in for permits to hunt on the refuge and scouted the week before.  After an unsuccessful morning siting in our trees in the swamp, we decided to head back to our trucks and sort out what to do that evening.  As we walked back to the parking area were strung out along a service road walking back to our trucks.  The two guys in the lead stopped and peered into the woods. They motioned to me get just inside the woods and post up as they circled to push a sika deer toward me.  They had seen a doe feeding by the road and were hoping to circle her and push her back toward me.  When I finally saw movement in the woods, it was a huge sika stag.  The stag was moving through the woods with his head down.  He stopped about 50 yards from me to work a wallow, but I had no shot through the thick brush.  I found a shooting lane that he would most probably cross.  I moved up and leaned against a tree with my gun pointed down the shooting lane and waited.  He started moving again and with my heart pounding so hard I was sure he could hear it I looked through the scope waiting to see hair.  As soon as I saw hair, I squeezed the trigger and blue smoke bellowed from my .50 calc OMEGA.  When the smoke cleared I could see him lying there.  When I walked up on him I could not believe how big he was, both in body size (95 lbs. field dressed) and antler size.

He officially scored 66 7/8, making him the 10th largest Sika taken with a muzzleloader in Maryland.  Since, then I have taken several other stags and hines, but none that compare to my first Sika deer.

Source for deer information:  Maryland Annual Deer Report for 2014-215, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Services.

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