July 28, 2013

Which Maine towns have the lion's share of big-game kills?

The top 10 answers, gleaned from the Telegram's analysis of 12 years' worth of tagging station data, might surprise you.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Julius Koenig is a Maine Guide and hunter. His hometown of Vassalboro has some of the state’s highest turkey and deer populations, often making it the No. 1 hunting town in Maine.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Farmland on Dunham Road in Vassalboro is posted as private property. Wildlife biologist Keel Kemper, who lives in Sidney, between Augusta and Waterville, says he has seen more outdoorsmen seeking landowner permission for hunting privileges.

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"It's gotten to the point, I could say in the deer yards in the big woods, we only had four or five areas that held wintering deer. In the past, way back 15 to 20 years ago, we probably had 30 or 40 areas," Hoppe said.

"I've been here since 1988. We used to have more hunters from Vermont come to northern Maine. But since 2007 and 2008, we've lost 50 to 70 percent of our deer. Hunters know that."

Wild turkey have migrated slowly north since the bird was reintroduced in York and Waldo counties by state biologists in 1977 and 1982, respectively, and since the first hunt was held in 1986, according to DIFW.

But the deer numbers, on the other hand, have just dwindled, said Hoppe, a 30-year veteran with DIFW.

In Dover-Foxcroft -- just northwest of Bangor -- Steve Boyd at Foxbrook Variety said fewer hunters stop in his shop during deer season than they did 20 years ago. He notices because fewer deer tagged means fewer sales.

"In 2007, there were 255 deer tagged. Last year there were 142, a loss of 113 customers. They don't all spend money in my store, but a good portion do. The whole reason to be a tagging station is to get people in the door. But if they're not having success hunting, they're not coming in my store," Boyd said.

And while an active hunting culture still thrives in Penobscot County, Vince Sawyer, owner of Toot's Delicatessen in Dexter, said the deer densities do not compare to when he grew up along the road to Moosehead Lake. Sawyer can recall tagging upwards of 500 deer at Toot's seven years ago. Last year he tagged just 231.

"I used to hunt, but the friends I hunted with moved away. I don't have time and my kids are not into it, so I gave it up," Sawyer said.

However, the abundance of deer and turkey in the southernmost corner of Maine is well known among hunters, and today a large number choose to hunt there.

NOT JUST LOCALS HUNTING

The significant opportunity to hunt in southern Maine is why Fred Wiegleb, president of the Scarborough Fish and Game Association, moved to York County in 1982. Now the president of one of Maine's largest fish and game clubs, Wiegleb said the hunting culture is far from fading in southern Maine.

"It's one of the attractions to coming to Maine. Elsewhere when you get into the metropolitan areas, you're not allowed to hunt. Not so here," said Wiegleb, of Arundel.

And it's not just locals who know it.

Lindsay, the regional wildlife biologist in southern Maine, said last year he got a call from a half dozen retired state troopers in Connecticut interested in deer hunting in his region.

"They had gone up to northern Maine for a couple of decades. But they got to the point in their 60s and 70s, they wanted to explore other places. They asked about lodging, and blocks of land to hunt where there was a good success rate. They did a lot of research. That's more typical of what we're getting now," Lindsay said.

More and more, Lindsay and Kemper said, out-of-state hunters call their offices inquiring about a southern Maine hunt, joining a strong group of locals who already hunt there.

Lindsay added that there has been a greater effort among biologists to help facilitate hunting in the south.

"It's why our long-term strategy is working with landowners here and securing access," he said.

Maine boasts a unique hunting tradition where private landowners have long allowed others to traverse across their land "to fish or fowl" without asking permission. This is the way in northern Maine, where private landowners often own huge tracts of land.

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Vassalboro, seen here on the north side of town looking south along Route 201, had 3,312 big-game kills from 2000 to 2012, making it the top hunting town in Maine for that period.

  


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