Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By Ken Allen
Maine's statewide muzzle-loading season for deer begins Monday and runs through Saturday in the north; in the bottom two-thirds of the state, the hunt continues through Saturday, Dec. 8, a two-week event tacked onto the previous four-week-and-a-day regular firearms deer season. Serious gun hunters are lucky to have this generous six-week stretch for whitetails.
Folks may wonder why the state ignores the general public while instituting special seasons or laws catering to specific groups -- say deer seasons for muzzleloaders or archers. They may also question fishing tackle restrictions that only allow artificial lures and/or flies on certain waters.
Critics complain that excluding regular firearms for deer hunting and disallowing bait for angling discriminates against those users.
"What next?" they ask. "A special season just for flintlocks? Stick bows and cedar arrows?"
Such laws exclude easier-to-master hunting choices such as inline muzzleloaders that shoot more reliably than sidelocks. Or compound bows that prove easier to shoot accurately than ancient style bows.
In my 20s, I approved of a special season for muzzleloaders and of fly-fishing-only waters -- without pondering the logic behind the laws. Eventually, age and wisdom offered me two solid reasons for such moves, and both revolved around generating money and more jobs into Maine.
• First, special seasons produce big bucks and create jobs beyond general sports-folks dollars and needs -- a great incentive as long as wildlife managers can still maintain game populations at healthy levels.
• Second, more primitive equipment often attracts people with attitudes that reduce kill, which helps make special laws work. For instance, average fly rodders or bassers release most fish, or average trophy hunters pass up smaller animals, even if means not shooting a deer every year.
In general, fly rodders release more fish than bait anglers do, but exceptions have always existed. One of my examples of this fly-fishing, catch-and-release ethic lasted every September for 15 years and illustrated how universal C&R is with fly fishers. It involved hundreds of fish, too.
Before the landlocked-salmon fishery collapsed in Belgrade Lakes' Long Pond, allegedly because of illegal pike stockings that established this invasive species, I fished at the Spillway Pool by Day's Store every year at the end of September. Salmon fishing proved blistering hot there.
Over 15 years, I seldom witnessed a fly rodder kill a salmon, and when they did, they often gave an excuse -- such as it was for an old neighbor. In the same time, I could count on one hand the number of salmon that bait-anglers let go. This is not meant as a condemnation, just an observation.
Another plus for special laws is this: Without them, a sport might not attract participants. People may need a push to spend money and learn ancient skills, and the incentive is extra hunting time.
• For instance, people whom I trust have told me that after Maine instituted a statewide October archery season for deer in 1951, the new law jump-started bowhunting in this state, particularly after manufacturers introduced compound bows in the 1970s, a tool easier to master than a recurve, longbow or stick bow.
• Second, the state introduced a muzzle-loading deer season in 1981, which took place then and now immediately after the regular firearms hunt. It encouraged participation, because folks suddenly had an undeniable reason to buy a muzzleloader and learn to shoot -- and additional deer-hunting time if they didn't score in November's regular firearms hunt.
Today, licensed muzzleloaders outnumber archers, and eventually, they'll organize and flex muscles far more in the Legislature.
Specialized sports surely mean additional money and jobs. Muzzleloaders need a muzzleloader, accessories, and warmer boots and clothing for December cold, which averages 12 to 13 degrees colder than November. Archers require a bow, arrows, tree stand, shooting stuff, soft camo clothing. These expenses do not include annual spending at convenience stores, restaurants, lodging facilities, sports shops, etc.
When specialized sports get more people involved without causing game populations to plummet, it promises that muzzleloaders and bowhunters will survive and flourish, leaving me with a question.
Are there more bow and arrows and muzzleloaders in circulation today than three centuries ago?
My humble answer is a resounding yes, because of the dramatic human-population increase. And better yet, hunters have more deer to hunt now than when pilgrims arrived 400 years ago.
As I have said here many times, the good old days are indeed here and now.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: