Pennsylvania doesn’t have a big bucks club; neither does New York, nor Vermont. But here in the Pine Tree State, the Big Bucks Club in Maine has a long-standing history. And after several years of a low deer harvest, hunters are starting to get excited that the big bucks tradition may be on the way back.

It’s really just a hope. Not yet based on any data. But since Maine’s fall harvest went from upward of 40,000 whitetails a decade ago to just 18,800 last year — and the big bucks club membership has fallen from 1,200 to as low as 350 — hunters here will grab any good sign.

“I did a numerical analysis one year and discovered that on average, a person has to hunt 30 years before getting a big buck. And the truth is the better hunters shoot them more than once. Most people never get a big buck,” said Harry Vanderweide, the former editor of The Maine Sportsman magazine, which records those who tag a deer weighing more than 200 pounds.

So as all deer hunters take to the field Monday there is unbridled optimism that big buck hunting may return.

Deer season started for Maine residents Saturday; and nonresident hunters will join them Monday for the firearm season that ends Nov. 24. And all of them are hoping the harvest tops 20,000 as state officials predict, with a good percentage of deer having more than a spike horn.

The bigger bucks are the 2- and 3-year-olds with the bigger racks. But it’s the challenge in shooting an older, smarter, more wary deer that hunters appreciate.

The Big Bucks Club in Maine was started more than 50 years ago by a state agency charged with building economic development, which no long exists.

“Because Maine was famous as a place to hunt deer, it was a way of promoting big game hunting here. And that’s exactly what they did. And then the agency was restructured into nonexistence, and the club was passed on to the fish and wildlife departments. And for whatever reason, they didn’t want it, so they asked us to take it,” Vanderweide said.

In Vermont, while no big bucks club exists, hunting larger deer is more than a draw or a dream — the goal has been built into the state’s hunting restrictions to make it happen.

In 2005, Vermont instituted an antler-point restriction to forbid shooting a spike-horn deer, to help grow more older deer, and the hunting law has been a success, said Vermont deer biologist Adam Murkowski.

“Initially it was a five-year experiment. We are now in our eighth year. We consistently have larger big-bodied deer in the harvest. We know there are more 2- and 3-year-old deer on the landscape,” Murkowski said.

Now across Maine there are whispers that the woods seem to hold more deer following the mild winter. And with more deer there is a greater chance more will survive their first year and grow toward 200 pounds, said Maine biologist Lee Kantar.

“There just haven’t been the deer. Things have fallen like a rock. There could be half as many. The harvest is half as many. But people are saying they are seeing more deer. Hopefully,” Vanderweide said.

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph