Hunting is a game of chance. The rules of the game are established to ensure that the quarry has a reasonable chance of eluding its pursuers. Looking at the most recent harvest figures (the comprehensive data set available is from 2010), that seems to be the case.
What are your overall odds of success? In 2010, Maine sold just under 200,000 hunting licenses — 88 percent to residents — accounting for an estimate of more than 1 million hunter-days. Total kill was 20,063, which means about one in 10 licensed hunters bagged a deer. Hunters were slightly less successful in 2011, registering 18,839 deer. However, there are ways to change those odds.
One is by possessing an any-deer permit, which allows hunters to take a deer of either sex during the regular firearms and muzzleloader seasons. In 2010, 64,679 people applied for any-deer permits and 48,825 (about 75 percent of applicants) received them. That resulted in a harvest of 6,552 antlerless deer during the regular and muzzleloader seasons, a 13 percent statewide success rate. Bear in mind, however, that not all any-deer permit holders shot antlerless deer. Thus, the success rate was probably higher — estimated around 30 percent by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Of course, success rates vary depending on where you hunt. Both the odds of drawing an any-deer permit and of being successful are skewed toward southern wildlife management districts because simply there are more deer. Looking at WMDs 1-11, only five had harvests of more than 100 deer, and only one surpassed 300 deer. Conversely, in WMDs 12-29, only two were below 200, and nine had harvests more than 1,000. The top five buck-producing districts were (in descending order): 24, 21, 22, 23 and 20.
What about hunting method? Bowhunters killed 1,497 deer in 2010 — fewer than the total kill in five different WMDs. Totals from the expanded archery and special (statewide) archery seasons were close, at 781 and 716, respectively. It’s probably safe to say overall success rates were similar, if not lower, for the statewide season.
About 15,700 muzzleloader hunters killed a whopping 1,070 deer — about 6 percent of the total harvest — for a 7 percent success rate. Here again, those hunting southern districts had an edge — an extra week of hunting.
When you hunt also plays a subtle role. Of the 17,035 deer taken during the regular firearms season, 2,047 or 12 percent were taken on the opening Saturday, which is limited to residents only. Otherwise, the overall harvest was relatively evenly distributed over the four-week season at between 19 percent and 23 percent, as was the buck harvest. This seems counterintuitive as you would expect a higher buck kill during the peak rut, and in fact, the buck kill was slightly higher during the first two weeks.
But these numbers are at best a crude estimate of an individual hunter’s odds of success. Some hunters improve their odds by putting in more time scouting and hunting, while others accept lesser odds by taking up a bow or muzzleloader, or hunting the big woods, where deer are few and far between.
Other factors also play a role. Perhaps most important, success isn’t always measured by what hunters take home in the truck. Often it’s based on what we take home in our hearts and our minds. It is hoped that you will find success in one form or another.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org