Thursday, December 12, 2013
Wondering what to expect this fall while out hunting? Read on and find out what the state's wildlife biologists are saying about the upcoming hunting seasons.
When it comes upland bird hunting, spring weather has the biggest impact on bird numbers. This spring, May was wetter than usual and if you lived in southern Maine, June was very, very wet, the sixth-wettest June on record.
Hunters know that the majority of the fall bird kill is comprised of young birds that are hatched in the spring. These juvenile birds are not as wise as their elders, so they are more susceptible to hunters. When weather events impact nesting success, there are fewer young birds and thus hunters will have fewer opportunities to shoot at birds in the fall.
Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, feels upland hunters will have fair to good results this year, depending on where they are.
"Grouse hunting remains good up north but fair in the rest of the state," said Allen, who said the early rains seemed to affect brood sizes, but not hatching success. "I'm going to predict fair hunting over much of the state but due to good numbers of adult grouse going into the spring nesting season, I'll predict good hunting again in the North Maine Woods."
News for woodcock is not as good. Peak hatching time for woodcock broods occur during the second week of May, which was wetter than usual. Ground surveys indicate that even though adult woodcock numbers remained relatively stable going into nesting season, evidence of nesting success is low. "I'm afraid that we will see a below-average flight of timberdoodles," said Allen.
Turkey hunters ought to have more success. Maine is rapidly earning a reputation as a premier turkey hunting state due to a healthy turkey population that is lightly hunted compared to other states.
"Hunters ought to have a fair to good turkey season," explained Allen, adding that many birds will renest if they lose their first clutch of eggs, and it appears that some turkeys had success nesting early, and for those that didn't, many renested successfully.
"I'm encountering hens with partridge-size young in mid-July, which is evidence of a June hatch, as well as seeing small poults ,which is indicative of a July hatch," said Allen. Turkey hunters should see plenty of birds this season.
Probably the best news is the deer herd, which is now back to levels not seen since before the severe winters of 2007-08 and 2008-09.
"After three fairly mild winters, the deer population has rebounded, and that is reflected in last year's buck kill and the increase in any-deer permits," said Kyle Ravana, Maine's deer biologist.
Last year's buck kill was up 23 percent from the previous year, and more notably it exceeded the 10-year average.
Not quite convinced?
Doe permits were issued in two Aroostook County wildlife management districts -- WMDs 3 and 6, the first time since 2000 and 2007 those districts received doe permits. Last year's deer kill also showed an increase in the number of older bucks and a decrease in the number of yearling bucks in the harvest, showing a stable age structure that bodes well for hunters.
Last year's deer kill was up 15 percent from the prior year, and Ravana believes that with normal hunting conditions (no hurricanes or heat waves) and normal hunting effort, this year's deer kill should be between 25,000 and 26,000, nearly a 20 percent increase from the previous year.
And if you are a moose hunter, well, it's the closest thing to a sure bet in Maine.
"Last year's moose harvest of 2,937 was the highest ever since the moose season resumed in 1980," said Maine's moose biologist, Lee Kantar, "and this year, we have issued 4,110 moose permits, the most ever allocated."
Look for hunter success rates near the 80 percent level, an exceptional success rate that has been the norm for years.
Of course, preseason predictions are nothing more than that, just someone's opinion. Wondering how the hunting is in your favorite area? The joy is finding out for yourself.
Mark Latti is a Registered Maine Guide, and the Landowner Relations/ Recreational Access Coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.