Shotgun deer season is underway

November 11, 2017

Today is the opening of Delaware’s shotgun deer season, and I am sure there are more people in the woods than at work or school. Unfortunately, I am at work because I no longer can afford to buy a lease on deer hunting property in Sussex County. At one time, I had hunting leases in Delaware and Maryland, but that was in the 1980s before I moved to Virginia Beach in 1989. When I came back home to Delaware in 2000, the price for a lease was way beyond my means. I know there are a lot of public hunting grounds in Sussex County, but I have this aversion to slugs and buckshot. I am too old for a climbing tree stand, and hunting from the ground on public land scares me to death. 

In years past, I have hunted during muzzleloader and doe-only seasons, but this year, the weather has been too warm. Sharing my stand with the numerous biting insects found in Sussex County and then having to field dress a deer after dark while the night insect shift takes over is not my idea of having fun.

I know, I know, I sound like an old sissy. Well, maybe I am, but as much as I enjoy deer hunting and having a freezer full of venison, at this point in my life, I prefer doing it on my terms.

Should you have a successful hunt, please send us a few photos. I really like pictures of kids or ladies, but will settle for guys. Always make sure the photo is as tasteful as possible. No beer cans, smoking materials, gut piles or excess blood. 

Good news from striped bass

Every year for the past 64 years, the State of Maryland has conducted a young-of-the-year survey in the upper Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries to determine the success of the striped bass spawning season. The survey samples 22 sites three times during the summer using a 100-foot beach seine.

During this time period, the average has been 11.7 YOY, and in 2017, the count was 13.2. For the third time in the past seven years, the YOY has been above average. This is considered a good sign for the coastal population of striped bass, of which the Chesapeake Bay makes up as much as 90 percent.

We had below-average YOYs between 1970 and 1989. This lack of reproduction success caused the population of striped bass to plummet to the point that Gov. Hughes of Maryland placed a moratorium on the possession of rockfish. That lasted until 1989 when Gov. Schaffer lifted the moratorium after a positive YOY. At the time, several of us criticized the governor because the driving force behind the high YOY was a sample from Hambrooks Bar, a site that had never been sampled before. There was some talk that Gov. Schaffer had promised the watermen he would lift the moratorium and this was his way of keeping that promise.

In any event, the new regulations put in place by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission were strong enough to protect the striped bass until we had a few more dominant year classes. With the good news that the 2017 YOY is above average, I think we can count on continued strong populations of the coastal stock.

Family reunion

My wife is the oldest of seven children, and every year, the family has a reunion at Charter Hall in Maryland. This year, the weather was just about perfect, and the younger ones of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren had a baseball game on Saturday, and then the little guys wanted to catch fish, and catch fish they did.

Using tackle that may have been new when the fishing started, became a bit less functional in short order. My son Roger, the mate on head boats since college, ended up untangling lines, rerigging and baiting hooks, then landing fish and taking photos. After it was all over, he said he would rather work a 100-party head boat trip in the middle of August by himself than go through that again. I happen to know he was only kidding because his daughter caught her first fish while he stood proudly by taking photos.

Fishing was a slow pick of perch until the sun began to set. Then the fish really began to bite. Amid all the confusion of flying perch and empty hooks I noticed that Cole Minsker was fighting something much larger than your average perch. He finally got the fish to the surface and I was able to land it on the pier. No doubt that catfish was the pool winner, and Cole was so proud and happy it made me feel great. All fish were released.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at