Deer prospects look good

By V. Paul Reynolds

This is the month! Deer hunters eagerly await November not unlike kids counting the days ‘til Christmas. If you think that the march of modernity and changing times have undercut the Maine deer hunting legacy and tradition, you have not been paying attention. This month, the firearms season for whitetail deer in the Pine Tree State, thousands of men, women and youngsters, from Maine and elsewhere, will don their hunter orange hats and vests, load their favorite deer rifles, and take to the deer woods – with high expectations. The firearms season opened for Maine residents on Oct 28 and closes Nov. 30 a half hour after sunset.

Last year, according to Nathan Bieber, Maine’s deer research leader, Maine hunters enjoyed a record deer harvest! In total, deer tagging stations from Kittery to Fort Kent registered 43,787 deer. What contributed to this record high harvest?

The usual factors, like weather, tracking snow, deer numbers, and hunter effort, all played a part, but no doubt a new and innovative harvest policy played a significant role in the robust deer harvest. Last fall, for the first time, hunters in wildlife management areas (WMAs) where any-deer permits were issued could take a doe and still legally hunt for that dream buck. Of course, the two-deer option was a deliberate deer-population management tool intended to reduce excess doe numbers, especially in southern and coastal Maine.

Bieber believes that the new harvest policy seems to be working as intended. He is hopeful that this will be another high-harvest deer season and that hunters will take more than 15,000 does this fall.

He says that the deer herd overall is healthy and that reproduction rates have been stable. Mast crops such as beechnuts and acorns have been very plentiful, which gives deer a chance to fatten up before the long Maine winter. Deer wintering areas remain important to deer survival, particularly in the north woods. Bieber says that we don’t have as many of the traditional yards that we once had but that issue is being addressed by the outright purchase and protection of some major deer yards by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Funds have been provided for these purchases from the sale of any-deer permits, as well as some additional funding earmarked from the Land for Maine’s Future Fund.

So far an historic 3,000-acre deer wintering area in southern Aroostook County has been acquired by IF&W for protection. IF&W has also earmarked another 7,000 acres of deer wintering areas in the County for possible acquisition. Negotiations are also underway for similar purchases in Western Maine.

Bieber emphasizes that the department’s deer research efforts can be aided by public input. For example, he would like to hear from anyone who has witnessed actual deer breeding activities or deer birth events in the spring. The department can always use anecdotal evidence from individuals who see does in the spring and summer with more than one fawn, etc.

Given the more liberal deer harvest options, the Department is encouraging hunters to consider “passing up” younger bucks as a path toward a bigger population of heavy-racked bucks going forward.

All in all, deer season 2023 has all the signs of an exciting and productive annual deer hunt. So get out there and spend some quality time in the Maine deer woods, and, like the trophy hunters always say, hunt quiet, hunt long and hunt safely!

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com.

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