GRAY — If you ever needed proof there are “two Maines,” all you need to do is stop at tagging stations across Maine.
Everyone sees dead deer brought in to be tagged, that’s not the question. It’s the quantity of whitetails seen, the amount of deer talk to be had, and the buzz around the whitetail season that decreases as you go from south to north.
Nobody knows that better than Howell Copp at Howell’s Gun Shop in Gray, where the lion’s share of deer tagged in southern Maine hang from his scale, as they did last weekend on Youth Deer Day.
After all, a 180-pound, 4-point buck hung there Monday after a man drove into one on Route 100 in Gray.
“There are more deer in southern Maine than ever before,” Copp said. “You don’t see as many hunters as you once did; we don’t in the store or by the side of the road. But the deer are there. So the success rate is high for those who hunt them.”
Deer season in Maine officially began Sept. 7 for bowhunters in certain areas, and for youth firearm hunters on Oct. 26, which is Youth Deer Day.
It began in earnest for all Maine hunters Saturday. (Hunting is not legal on Sundays in Maine).
Based on the few deer that had shown up at tagging stations so far, it appears deer season this year will go great guns, so to speak, in the midcoast and southern Maine.
The whitetail are so plentiful in southern Maine, Copp said, this part of the state is “overrun with them.” It’s why he holds a big-buck contest each year to give away a rifle, a tree stand and a scope, because Copp said there are loads of big bucks in the southern part of the state.
So much so that for 30 years his big-buck contest has been a draw. And Copp said of the roughly 450 deer his store tags each year, a solid 10 percent are bucks weighing more than 200 pounds.
“The most interesting thing is that each year 10 percent of the deer we see are big bucks,” Copp said.
“I don’t care if you’re in Greenville or Eustis, to have one out of 10 deer over 200 pounds is a lot of big bucks. They might say up there their percentage of big bucks is higher, but I don’t know. If we tag 450 deer, 45 are that big.”
The Gray gun shop tagged 11 deer on Youth Day, which is average, Copp said. But he already has seen five deer pushing 230-to-235 pounds.
Copp expects as the season gets going, deer will come pouring in at his station.
That’s the talk elsewhere in Maine. In the midcoast, the deer herd is booming as usual.
Marguerite McCabe, owner of South Monmouth Market, said the deer being brought in are big. With the new scale that the market got last week (after the old one was stolen two years ago), they store hasn’t registered a deer over 200 pounds, she said, but there is talk that big bucks are out there.
“Customers are saying they’re seeing big deer. And the does last week were a pretty good size,” said McCabe, who tags as many as 100 whitetails a year.
At Audette’s Market in Winthrop, there haven’t been many deer tagged, but there’s been much talk.
“It’s been down a bit but it will be up this year,” said the owner, Lee Robins. “There are more signs out there. We might see 20 on opening day this year.”
But go north into Aroostook County, and it’s a different story.
There’s still talk full of hope and eager anticipation, but less optimism in the part of the state that sees as few as two deer per square mile.
“The deer are not as strong as they used to be. Some young hunters said they saw nothing,” said Margaret Simard at the Bald Eagle Store in Eagle Lake, just miles from the northern tip of Maine.
And in Madawaska, to the east, talk is not much brighter.
Norma Morin, owner of Morin’s Variety, said they helped just five youth hunters tag deer, down from maybe 20 last year.
Morin said hunting in general seems to be down in The County, and she’s not sure why.
“I don’t know what’s changed. Last year during youth day people packed in to have breakfast, but I didn’t find there were as many out there. Even the game wardens noticed this,” Morin said.
But hope definitely remains in Aroostook County that the days of a busy deer hunting season will return.
“People are saying the herd is better than in past years, that the management has helped a little,” said Michelle Crane at Mac’s Trading Post in Houlton.
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]Twitter: FlemingPph