Hunters and wildlife biologists alike are watching the deer hunt very carefully. And if you think they’re looking to northern Maine, where the bulk of Maine’s hunting culture is often believed to be, think again.

The truth is the lion’s share of successful deer hunting in Maine occurs in southern and central Maine, as much as 80 percent, said regional wildlife biologist Scott Lindsay. Year in and year out, the annual harvest proves it.

Southern Maine, not northern Maine, is the state’s hunting hotbed.

“I have gotten calls from people in Aroostook County that have relatives down here. They are coming down here to hunt. They’re coming down because there are a lot of deer, and there are older deer, as well,” said Lindsay in Gray.

This fall, state wildlife biologists predict the deer harvest could top 20,000. That would boost the tally back to 2008 levels, when the number of deer taken by hunters first started to drop after two brutal winters. The last big deer harvest was in 2007, when more than 28,000 deer were tagged.

That year, 25 Maine towns had more than 150 deer taken. And it’s those towns that will draw hunters.

That year, Auburn had 218 deer tagged. Corinna, northwest of Bangor, had 205 tagged, and Vassalboro, northeast of Augusta, had the third-highest kill with 199.

But it’s all a far cry from the way it used to be.

Regional wildlife biologist Keel Kemper in Sidney said in the 1990s, the modern heyday of hunting, Vassalboro would register 100 deer on opening day.

“There are three of us in the Sidney office, and we physically examine somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 deer a fall. Scott Lindsay is equally busy. But those guys up north? They aren’t seeing as many deer hit the ground,” Kemper said.

Cumberland County in southern Maine has some of Maine’s biggest deer-harvest towns, on par with the numbers put out in Kennebec County.

“Around Sebago Lake, those hunting districts have done very well, consistently, over the years,” Lindsay said. “In the past few years, the towns around Sebago have emerged as the No. 1 producers of deer. There is a pretty significant harvest in those towns, in Windham, Gray, Sebago, Raymond, Standish. And, oh yes, in New Gloucester.”

And this fall, at southern Maine’s top tagging stations, early signs suggest a return to better days.

“We tagged more this year, twice as many. From 9 to 11 a.m. we tagged six bucks, three 6-pointers,” said Kurt Tabor at Tabor’s Variety in Standish.

In Bridgton, at The Little Mountain Country Store, nine bucks were brought in on a hot opening day, including an 8-point, 200-pound buck, said Paul Ferland.

“Last year (the store was) closed. But the year before last wasn’t as good. We did two or three. I remember the IFW biologists came by to study the deer and look at the herd, and they got skunked,” Ferland said.

At the busiest tagging stations in the state, the spirit was decidedly optimistic. In Corinna, the hope is for bigger numbers to start coming in this weekend.

“It was pretty warm. The deer wouldn’t be moving. But a lot of the hunters saw signs. And we did have one 8-pointer right around 200 pounds,” said Allen Sudsbury at A.E. Robinson Oil Co.

At the doorstep of big woods, Dover-Foxcroft is the site of a big deer harvest year in and year out. This year, locals think they’re due.

“We did seven bucks and two does on opening day. We are up. And we’re hearing from a lot of people that a lot of hunters are seeing more deer, I’m seeing more deer,” said Mark Marshall, assistant manager at Foxbrook Variety.

It all may add up to more than anecdotal excitement.

The biologists who visit the tagging stations like what they see. Lindsay and Kemper both said, based on the body size and antler width of the yearling bucks they are seeing, the herd looks robust.

“You often see yearlings around maybe 110 pounds. I am finding a lot in the 130-pound size range. That’s more the weight of a 2- to 2.5-year-old. But from the tooth sample, they are certainly yearlings,” Lindsay said.

Kemper’s measured antler width the size of 2-year-old deer on yearling bucks.

He wrote down on his clipboard weights of 130, 128, 135 and 154 for yearlings, where he normally records nothing heavier than 120 pounds. And from the tooth sample, he knows they were, indeed, yearlings.

“They still had their baby teeth,” he said.

 

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph