For the past three years I have taken some time to travel to Maryland's eastern shore to chase sika deer, Maryland's little elk.
Over the past few years I have done some research on these little guys and what I found, I thought to be interesting and thought I would share this with others who may be interested in a challenging hunt for an elusive game.
Since most of us who like to hunt, jump at the opportunity to hunt different species or hunt in different environments, this can be a affordable and exciting adventure and a must in my book for any serious big game hunter.
After doing some research online and speaking with a DNR officer at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a buddy and I left for a pre hunt scouting trip in mid September of 2006, which would be the first time I would set foot in sika country. I was taken back by the vastness of the salt marsh of the eastern shore.
Our first hunting trip a few weeks later consisted of a 3 day bow hunt in early October of ‘06. On that trip I was introduced to the local mosquito population, I’ll elaborate on the mosquitoes later. I almost stepped on two snakes (the first in the dark going into the stand), I saw my first sika deer, a hind who materialized out of the marsh grass 40 yards to my right and most importantly, heard my first bugle from a stag at sunset. Due to a serve rain storm that hit after the first evening hunt, we only hunted a day and half out of the three days but that was enough to get me hooked.
Since that first trip in the 06-07 season, we’ve managed to get back both in the 07-08 season and this past year, which we made four separate trips. After three years and a lot of hours on stand, I took my first (of hopefully many more) sika deer with my bow in mid January of 2009. Not the monster stag I had been dreaming about, a small hind but a true trophy for me and memories that will last a lifetime.
In all my years of hunting this has been one heck of an experience that I believe just about anyone would enjoy. I’ve had the opportunity to hunt whitetails in different states, turkeys, bear in Maine and two provinces of Canada, waterfowl in some of the best locations in the U.S. but this hunt for sika deer is probably the most unique. Maybe that's because you can only go to a few places in North America to hunt these deer in the wild. That's why I wanted to share some of the information that I’ve learned about sikas, just in case you yourself are looking for an adventure you can't find anywhere else.
Let me start by giving you a little background on Maryland's sika deer.
Obviously, when the word deer is mentioned, most of us think of whitetails, since they are the most predominant deer species in North America. But over the past few decades there has been another deer that has received a lot of attention by hunters, biologists and wildlife viewers.
The sika deer is a nonnative species and is not related to our sika black tails of the northwest and Alaska. The sika's I’m referring to are actually more closely related to our native elk. They are not native to North America but originate in Japan, Taiwan and eastern Asia. Captive sika's have been reported in 34 states in the U.S. with wild populations found in Texas, Virginia and Marylands eastern shore.
It has been reported that Clement Henry, an eastern shore resident, released five or six sika deer in 1916 on James Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Then in the 1920's, some of the Henry stock was released onto Assateague Island. Over the years, the deer have moved onto the mainland of Maryland, taking up home in the marshes and wetlands of the lower eastern shore. Today, sika deer inhabit Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset and Worchester counties of Maryland with the highest concentrations in southern Dorchester County.
The sika males are called stags and females referred to as hinds. Both of which are very vocal, especially during the rut. The sika is more closely related to our native elk then whitetails, therefore they are one of the most vocal of all the deer species. During the fall and early winter breeding period, stags can be heard bugling across the marsh, with most of this occurring early in the morning and at dusk. Hinds also vocalize using soft bleats and whistles to communicate with other females and their young.
They differ from whitetails in appearance in size and color. Adult sikas will stand about 2 Â½ feet at the rump and have proportionally shorter snouts, legs and ears. Adult stags weigh around 90lbs., with mature hinds weighing around 60lds. There coat is a reddish brown during the summer months and a dark chestnut to almost black during the winter months. Stags are typically darker and have a shaggy main around their neck. They will also keep their white spots into adulthood which are most noticeable during the summer. Unlike whitetails, who raise a large white tail up when alarmed, sikas have a white rump patch that flares outward.
Sika Deer Range
Wildlife and heritage service biologists initiated a tagging study in 1988 to obtain important information on harvest rates, longevity, and movements of sika deer. The average distance traveled by sika males (stags), as measured by comparing tagging location to recovery location, was 2.7 miles. Sika females (hinds) were recovered an average of 1.3 miles from the tagging location. Supprisingly, some of these tagged deer were still alive 10+ years later.
As far as hunting the sika deer, you have a couple choices. You can go on your own and hunt public or private land or go with an outfitter. I have done all of the above from hunting the vast public and private marshlands on my own, to hunting with an outfitter. All of which are not bad options, just depends on how much you want to spend and how much time you have on your hands. Guided hunts are relatively inexpensive as compared to other big game hunts such as, whitetails or mule deer. If you have never hunted sika's and don't live close enough to get over there to scout prior to hunting, then a guided hunt is a good option, at least for your first go at hunting sikas. If you do have the time to scout, then going on your own may be for you. Obviously it's not that easy to find private land to hunt but there are acres and acres of public land available to hunt sika deer and some of this public land is as good, if not better than many private places.
The one thing you’ll have to understand is the environment is quite different than that of whitetail habitat. The salt marshes of the lower eastern shore are where the sika deer call home. Though sometimes there range will overlap with the whitetail, they primarily spend most of their time in the marsh. This environment is more like the everglades of Florida then the open hardwoods and thickets of whitetail country we all know and love. Obviously with marshes you have water, and lots of it, knee boots is a must with hip boots being required in many cases. With water you get mosquitoes, (notice I typed mosquitoes, which is plural), bug repellent, a thermacel or a bug suit is in order for this adventure. I will be honest; some who have ventured to sika country left a few pints lighter and have no intentions on coming back. The mosquitoes will definitely get your attention. But then again, so will that stag bugling at sunrise.
You can get more information on hunting sika deer in Maryland as well as license information at www.dnr.state.md.us/. Hope to see you there next season.