Hunting Marsh Ghosts in Maryland
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, look no further than Maryland. Certain sections of Eastern Shore are the only place in the world – aside from their native Eastern Asia – where the exotic sika deer can be hunted in the wild, offering one of the most unique hunting experiences available in the U.S.
Called “marsh ghosts” to locals because of their habitat and stealthy movement, sika deer offer a challenging, exciting hunt for every skill level.
In the early 1900’s Clement Henry released 5 or 6 deer on James Island. Maryland biologists and deer managers first worried that the “miniature elk” would expand into the upland territory of native white-tailed deer. This resulted in higher bag limits being set so that hunters would be encouraged to harvest and control the sika deer population. However, over the years, managers have learned that the sika predominantly lives most of its life in the sub-optimal regions of the white-tailed deer's habitat; apparently lessening competition between the species.
Sika deer are now managed to keep the population at its "cultural carrying capacity" (meaning the maximum number of deer that can co-exist, compatibly, with local landowners and native species). It's important to keep population levels low enough to ensure crop damage is minimized, while still providing plenty of hunting opportunities for sportsmen and women.
The popularity of sika deer hunting in Maryland has increased markedly over the last decade. The challenge of the hunt, their uniqueness as a trophy, and the excellent flavored venison they provide, have resulted in a steadily increasing harvest. Hunters interested in pursuing the elusive sika will find the field-dressed weights of yearling females to average 45 lbs, with 53 lbs the average dressed weight for yearling males. A Mature stag will dress around 100 lbs.
Sika deer differ in looks from native white-tailed deer. They are shorter in stature — adults stand about 2 ½ feet at the rump. Their coat tends to be reddish brown during summer months, and dark brown to black in color during winter. Even as adults they have white spots, mainly running parallel down their back. Stags generally have a dark, shaggy mane running down their neck, and their antlers are narrow and sweep backwards rather than forwards like the white-tail's antlers. A 6-point stag is a trophy, with 8-pointers being extremely rare. Finally, unlike white-tailed deer that raise their tail like a flag when alarmed, sika deer have a round white rump patch that flares outward when they are excited or alarmed.
Plan Your Next Experience
Hunting sika deer is a true “Only in Maryland” experience that every serious sportsman and sportswoman need to add to their bucket list. The best way to bag one of these deer is to find a guide with the insight, and land, needed for a successful hunt. Guides like Muddy Marsh Outfitters (featured in this video) offer your best chance for bagging your first sika deer. Before coming to Maryland, contact a guide to help you plan your trip and answer any questions you might have. Also, we suggest visiting Maryland DNR’s website for current and accurate information on all hunting logistics and regulations.
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