The regular firearms deer season kicks off Nov. 2 for Maine residents and Nov. 4 for nonresidents. For 40 years, this season has ended the Saturday after Thanksgiving – Nov. 30 this year, a very late last day. Thanksgiving’s date shifts each year, but since 1984, the annual time frame has lasted four weeks and one day for residents and four weeks for nonresidents.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving is an important day for setting dates for other Maine game seasons. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife establishes statewide archery and muzzle-loading dates around the regular firearms deer season. The 30-day, statewide deer bow season always ends Friday (Nov. 1 this year) before the firearms opener for deer the following day, and the muzzle-loading hunt starts the Monday after regular deer season closes (Dec. 2 this year).
The 2013 Maine deer harvest will probably range around 25,000, and a quick look at a Maine deer-kill map on the IF&W website illustrates this state’s deer-hunting hot spots. It shows the registered deer-kill in each town, and the figures can drop jaws and pop eyes open.
A vast majority of deer falls in an area covering slightly less than one-third of the state. The eastern boundary extends up the Penobscot River from the ocean to Old Town, and the northern boundary makes an imaginary line extending northwest to Dover-Foxcroft and then southwest to Fryeburg. The west boundary follows the Maine-New Hampshire border south, and the Atlantic Ocean forms the southern border.
When readers look at this IF&W map, they should check the registration figures in larger towns in northern and eastern Maine. Even though I suspected paltry figures, single- and low-double-digit figures in each hamlet shocked me. In stark contrast, many towns in the south country register between 100 and 200 deer each year.
Granted, the map can mislead viewers, particularly on a local level. Stores in some towns may offer an attractive feature to draw hunters from nearby towns. These folks may drive across two or three towns or more to reach a certain store, even though the law says hunter must register a deer at the first open tagging station that he or she encounters. In short, it’s illegal to drive past tagging stations to reach a favorite spot, but folks routinely do it.
What attracts people to certain stores, despite the law?
Here’s an example. Once, a store in my hometown wrote the shooter’s name and buck’s antler count on a blackboard, so customers flocked there, including me. Little gimmicks like publicizing the hunter’s name encouraged folks to sneak deer from, say, Windsor to Belgrade.
Recently, Bill Woodward and I discussed the deer-harvest map. This retired IF&W fisheries biologist and successful deer hunter listened to me say that the northern boundary of the productive harvest area followed the demarcation between Maine’s foothills and mountains.
“Did more severe winters in higher elevation factor into the low deer kill?” I asked Bill.
Woodward said yes. Mountains up north increase winter’s severity and, according to Woodward, challenged deer survival.
Also, low deer-harvest areas occur where large landowners have routinely destroyed deer wintering habitat for decades by cutting stands of mature conifers, common in northern and eastern Maine.
The deer-harvest figures by towns suggest that the claim about lack of big-woods wintering habitat has merit. The whitetail kill east of the Penobscot from the ocean to Old Town has low elevations but dismal deer-kill numbers.
Woodward and I (mostly me) said that coyotes cause problems for deer in areas with poor wintering habitat. A decrease in deeryards concentrates whitetails in the lean season, making them easier targets for coyotes.
Widespread woodcutting creates abundant deer forage, but whitetails need winter cover. It would be like forcing humans to winter in a supermarket full of food but without a roof and walls for shelter.
In the 1950s when northern and eastern Maine had strong deer herds, thanks to adequate north-country habitat, the statewide deer kill annually hovered around 39,000 to 41,000. In short, folks could find deer aplenty from Kittery to Fort Kent, and in those years, one in four deer hunters in Maine registered a deer.
Come Nov. 2 for residents and Nov. 4 for nonresidents, the deer season begins, and those of us in that golden one-third of the state should have a fine month of hunting. As dismal as northern Maine looks on the IFW harvest map, reports claim deer are up in the North Country, thanks to a mild winter last year.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at :