For about 30 years I wrote a monthly 4,000 to 5,000-word “Almanac” in a magazine, and the format included Maine’s hunting-and-fishing season dates as well as law changes through the decades. This job showed me how complicated outdoor laws and regulations can be for average sports folks.

Many times through the years, I called IFW officials (often biologists) or legislators for an explanation to understand the topic well enough to write about it. Occasionally IFW officials needed to thrash out the wording before they could answer my questions.

Dealing with fish-and-game laws and regulations is nothing new for Mainers because we have confronted legislation for nearly two centuries. Two of the first major deer hunting laws in Maine started in 1830, when the state initiated 1) a season lasting from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, and 2) no bag limit. That was 185 years ago, so you might think that by now IFW had fine-tuned laws and regulations. In truth, though, some work well enough; others proved to be dismal failures from day one.

In an attempt to stabilize Maine’s whitetail population, state officials instituted a bag limit in 1883 – three deer per hunter per season. By 1895 that changed to two deer per person per season. In that late 19th-century time period, 1886 to be exact, the state outlawed using dogs for deer hunting.

In 1906, new legislation forced nonresidents to buy a deer-hunting license, and in 1919 Mainers needed a lifetime license – ultra-inexpensive. When I was 8 or 9, it was my good fortune to see one of these lifetime licenses, by then obsolete. It belonged to Claude French, a distant cousin and hermit who lived above Savade Pond. As I recall, the license cost 25 cents.

Eventually a game warden stopped French one season while he was hunting with the ancient license and strongly advised him to buy a modern license. That year, 1919, mandatory deer registration began.

My great-uncle Will French once told me that in the 1920s the deer season ran from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31. If he was right, that 1830 three-month season had lasted at least 100 years.

In 1925 the state set the deer bag limit at one per season, either sex, and in 1930 folks needed to buy an annual hunting license with a predictable exception – landowners needed none to hunt on their own land.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression and Maine’s severe moose decline gave hunters more pressing issues than deer-hunting laws, so nothing major occured with deer until 1939, when the state established the north-and-south, deer-hunting zones that remained in place until 1983.

For years the north-zone season lasted from Oct. 15-Nov. 30 and the south zone from Nov. 1-30. What a bonus to be able to head north to hunt two weeks early.

In 1951 Maine added an annual statewide archery deer season for Oct. 1-31. Most Mainers weren’t into archery so the hunt didn’t really take off. For 64 years the time frame for the statewide bow season has changed little except for tweaking the dates to accommodate the calendar when the regular firearms season moved around a little from year to year. The bow season has begun in late September and occasionally extended into early November.

In 1967 Maine legislators required deer hunters to wear hunter-orange clothing, which made a startling reduction in the number of deer hunters shot by mistake. (One year in the 1950s, Maine had a fatality rate of 19 hunters. Some years now, hunting fatalities have dropped to zero.) At first a hunter-orange hat sufficed to be legal, but now deer hunters must wear a hunter-orange hat and covering for the torso.

In 1971 the old Maine Department of Fish and Game instituted what I believe was an odd law. It became illegal to drive deer, which makes this state one of the very few places in the world where driving game is illegal. (We can drive other critters – grouse, pheasant, moose, etc.)

In 1981 Maine began a muzzle-loader deer season for the first week after the regular firearms hunt ended – at first a statewide one-week Monday through Saturday hunt. Then, in the state’s bottom two-thirds, officials added an extra week onto this first week.

In part of the 1970s and early 1980s, the deer season for firearms changed to three weeks starting in early November, and ended the Saturday after Thanksgiving. When the any-deer-permit system began in 1986, that hunt became a four-week season that also ended the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In 1997 the expanded archery hunt began in designated zones.

Yes, Mainers have seen plenty of deer-hunting law changes.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

[email protected]