In the past several months, northern and eastern Maine’s seriously depleted deer herd has generated discussions and meetings galore, as outdoors leaders address the perplexing issues leading to this old problem.

Money spurs the efforts, too. State officials and advocates often claim that bringing deer back would improve rural economies — at least in the fall — by creating jobs and generating tourism dollars in places such as Jackman, Rockwood, Greenville, Patton, Ashland and other name spots.

The blame for northern and eastern Maine’s current deer woes often falls into three categories — frequent severe winters, wood-cutters destroying wintering habitat and a well-established coyote population.

Deer once flourished in these two regions, which often surprises the younger generation when they hear me mention this fact. Until the 1960s, Northeastern hunters considered these world-class hunting areas.

Winters back then were as bad, if not worse, than now, but deer in those regions had wintering habitat and no coyotes.

Legislation to stop wintering-habitat destruction, renewal of the snaring program around winter deer yards and global warming (of all things) could eventually improve those deer numbers in the 21st century.

Snaring is a hot-button issue, but Rodney Small, a retired game warden and serious deer hunter, once snared coyotes around deer yards before it became illegal. He often looked me in the eye and swore it saved deer at a vulnerable time, words from a man with firsthand experience.

Here’s a point I seldom hear discussed:

The lack of access leases in northern and eastern Maine underscores our sparse deer numbers there. Myriad hunting states in the nation have well developed, private leasing systems, usually entrepreneurs out to make money from the fun job of offering sport to deer or wild-boar hunters.

All my adult life, people have claimed we’re lucky that leases haven’t developed in this state and pushed out folks with smaller incomes, but luck has little to do with it.

The reason gets back to the old bugaboo — the sparse deer herd in large tracts of woodlands that lend themselves to access leasing. According to our Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists, deer average two per square mile in the north country and Down East.

But deer hunting in these regions has stunk since at least the early 1970s. Who would want to invest in an access lease where whitetails number two animals per square mile? Not I.

If deer hunting had held up in northern and eastern Maine through the last four decades, no one could convince me that access leases wouldn’t be the norm in those regions.

Please note the term “access leasing.” In Maine, landowners can charge for access but not for hunting a specific animal. For example, it’s illegal to charge, say $750, to hunt deer or grouse, but it’s legal to make folks pay for access.

The sparse deer herd brings up a quick digression. A quarter-century ago, Leonard Lee Rue III, a world-famous wildlife photographer and hunter, wrote that he would not bother hunting anyplace with fewer than 50 deer per square mile. That figure of 50 caught on and has become a selling point.

Few Maine towns support that many deer per square mile, and in fact, if Belgrade had 16 to 20 deer per square mile, I’d be plenty happy.

Unless winters become less severe, Maine will never have large regions with 50-plus deer per square mile, but we could have a draw — huge deer compared to most U.S. states.

However, big deer help little when IFW claims those regions have two deer per square mile.

In the 1950s, Maine had an abundant enough herd that one out of four hunters statewide registered a deer, a 25 percent success ratio. These days, that has dropped to one of eight to 12 deer hunters, depending on the year.

Other states have smaller deer but more of them, and at least a dozen states routinely produce better racks. For these positives, landowners can charge big money for a lease, so it’s nothing to pay, say $1,500 and more, for a week-long hunt on a Texas deer ranch.

Closer to home, the first year I hunted on Anticosti Island in Quebec, Jupiter 12 lodge charged about $4,000 for four days of hunting and five nights lodging and gourmet meals. This trip occurred 20 years ago, when that much money was a steep figure (I was a guest of the Quebec government).

When hunting Anticosti, I have always seen at least 50 deer and shot two bucks. It might interest folks to realize that an Anticosti winter includes deep snow. Lack of large predators such as coyotes creates a deer-hunter’s paradise, though.

Anticosti’s snow and cold can kill off lots of deer. However, strictly regulated hunting and limited predators have insured my hunts there are top-notch — at least 13 to 15 deer sightings per day.

If Maine gets its northern and eastern deer herd into shape, access leases will cover these remote regions like box stores at strip malls.

You can bet on that and take your winnings to the bank.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

 


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