Baxter State Park is improving hunting access, and a group of hunters who look to bag a deer there will benefit.

Historically, 25 percent of the park has been open to hunting, mostly in the northern part in the Scientific Forest Management Area.

“It’s popular with a dedicated group of hunters. A lot of the roads are closed to vehicles. The policy of (those) park roads is they’re open for forest management, but not recreation,” said Baxter State Park director Jensen Bissell.

The closed roads appeal to some hunters. “They get away from vehicles and get to a spot they know well. They take a tote sled to bring their deer out.”

While most of the park is a wildlife sanctuary where deer can stay “forever wild,” in keeping with Percival Baxter’s vision for the land he donated to the state, Baxter designated a small part of the park for hunting. But the hunting is wild as well, requiring mostly walking and hiking, and dragging deer out.

However, this fall it will get a bit easier, with improved access through a park gate on the northeast side, and permission to use four miles of road.

Traditionally, hunters could access the park through the Telos Road in the park’s northwest corner. With the new gate, installed a week ago, hunters can drive four miles of park logging road from the east via the park’s Matagamon Gatehouse. The new gate can be used by hunters for two years during a trial period.

Hunters and guides who live around the park are excited about the new opportunity.

“When Baxter put the park together, he recognized that his friends who ran sporting camps needed a place to hunt,” said Rick Hill, owner of Mt. Chase Lodge, near the north entrance of the park.

“But there were never any roads. You could only paddle across the lake to get to the northeast side (where hunting was legal).”

Hunting in the park has gone down in recent years, but Joe Christianson, owner of Matagamon Wilderness camps on the northeast side of the park, thinks the new access will draw hunters back.

“The access is the big thing. We’ve lost a few hunters who are getting older and unable to walk where they’d like to go. This will help,” Christianson said.

The number of hunters using the park peaked a decade ago, with at least 1,916 in 2000, according to the park. Then hunting fell off through the past 10 years, with 1,117 in 2005 and 603 last year.

Of the 1,239 hunters who signed the registration book in 2006, 22 tagged deer, according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife deer harvest map. But that map shows deer only coming out of the northwest side, in the area of Township 6, Range 10 WELS, and just five deer being taken by hunters on the northeast side, out of Trout Brook Township.

Bissell thinks hunter use has gone down as gas prices have gone up. But he said the improved access to the northeast part of the park offered by the new gate may increase hunting.

Christianson, a Registered Maine Guide agrees.

“There are a couple of mountains in there. A lot of hunters like to get in on the back side of them. It’s fun going in there to hunt. It’s good hunting,” Christianson said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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