Yup, it’s hard to believe, especially with a couple weeks of summer vacation left, but it’s that time of year again. Another Maine hunting season lies just ahead, starting out slowly and building momentum as we head into fall.
GROUNDWORK FOR BEAR
The first installment of Maine’s three-part bear season begins in a little over a week. Prospective hunters and their guides have been meticulously minding bait sites for a month, intent on luring these black ghosts of the forest into revealing themselves in the daylight.
It may seem like an easy task after conditioning them into visiting a regularly available food source, but they’re still wild and very wary creatures.
A concentrated food source represents a potential source of danger. It’s unnatural, which puts these already super-wary ursines on their toes.
Around these sites younger bears smell, see, sense and fear their only natural predator, a bigger bear, and are constantly on the look-out for danger. And bigger bears have learned to associate bait with hunters, and tend to avoid the bait piles until after dark.
The percentages lie firmly in favor of the bears, but they make mistakes often enough to keep the hunters coming back.
Many of those hunters — roughly half of all Maine bear hunters — are nonresidents. They account for a disproportionate percentage — about two-thirds — of the annual kill. They’re relatively more successful primarily because the 5,000-plus nonresidents typically hire a guide, providing critical economic stimulus to Maine’s recreation industry.
Despite a month of pre-baiting and a four-week bait season, hunters still aren’t killing enough bears to meet bear management goals. If that trend continues, the state may start looking for ways to increase bear hunting opportunities.
ARCHER VS. ARCHER
Archers are still honing their skills and their broadheads in anticipation of the upcoming bow season on deer. Those who hunt the so-called expanded areas will get first dibs when the expanded archery season begins on Sept. 11.
The expanded season was instituted over a decade ago with the dual purpose of reducing deer populations in areas where firearms hunting is unsafe or impractical, and providing more recreational opportunity (and license revenues), and has seen considerable changes since.
Initially, it spanned a month, was limited to essentially wildlife management district 24 and allowed archers to take one additional deer. Today it runs from early September to mid-December, encompasses a mosaic of exurban areas around the state and allows hunters to take a buck and unlimited does.
That may seem fairly liberal, particularly when you consider that just under 10,000 archers participate.
However, with a total kill under 1,500, they’re hardly making a dent in the state’s whitetail population, nor do they represent any serious competition for the state’s 170,000 firearms hunters.
They do, however, represent competition for each other. The expanded zone is made up of numerous small pockets that are easily overcrowded. Putting too many hunters into these small areas puts deer on alert and reduces success rates of every hunter.
Landowner relations, safety and ethics are also particularly important. Expanded zone archers are often hunting in very close proximity to people and houses and must take great care to be discreet, respectful and responsible.
Most landowners understand the necessity of using bow hunters to reduce deer numbers, and thus car-deer collisions, property and crop damage and the incidence of Lyme disease. They just don’t necessarily want or need to witness it first-hand.
BRING ON THE HOUNDS
Hot on the tails of that, Sept. 13, there’s more bear hunting when the dog season begins.
Hound hunters are a small but very dedicated segment of the bear-hunting fraternity, accounting for slightly more than 10 percent of the annual bear harvest. Here again, nonresidents outnumber residents by about three to one, bringing important revenue to Maine.
Dog handlers probably work the hardest, training and maintaining their kennels year-round in anticipation of Maine’s six-week season.
For those I’ve met and hunted with, it is the thrill of the chase and the baying of the hounds more than anything that drives them; and successful hunts often end without a kill.
While all of the above is going on, other hunters will be training bird dogs and retrievers, building duck blinds, hanging tree stands and scouting oak ridges in preparation for the big show.
As September rolls into October, statewide seasons begin for most species from upland game and game birds to turkey, waterfowl and archery deer. And in the weeks ahead we’ll take a closer look at all.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: