Deer hunters are forever debating things like the best caliber or the most productive tactics, but one of the more hotly debated topics in recent years is antler restrictions.

There’s no question they would improve the age structure in the male segment of Maine’s deer herd, but at what cost? Proponents typically cite research, biology and numerous examples from other states where mandatory antler restrictions have been successful in increasing the proportion of older bucks in the population. What they sometimes fail to consider, however, is the different motivations of individual deer hunters.

Bud is a trophy hunter. He goes to the woods each fall with the personal goal of shooting a good buck. He’s also a serious hunter who spends a lot of time in the woods and sees lots of deer, but passes up the does and small bucks hoping something bigger will eventually happen by. If the opportunity fails to present itself, he’s content with knowing he gave his best effort, but he also realizes those opportunities would come more often for him and other hunters if there were antler restrictions in place.

Karl doesn’t share that opinion. He works a regular job during the day and often does side jobs as a shade tree mechanic at night and on weekends. A deer would go a long way toward reducing the family grocery bill but time is money. He may take an afternoon off here or there but his hunting time is largely restricted to the five Saturdays of gun season. In the years when he’s fortunate enough to draw an any-deer permit, that’s what he hunts for – any deer. Otherwise he’s looking for anything with antlers, regardless of size. Antler restrictions would certainly limit his ability to take a buck, but the need to remove more deer to compensate for protecting more bucks could increase his odds of drawing an any-deer permit.

Paul is 22. He’s experienced some success at shooting the first legal deer he sees and his self-confidence as a deer hunter is blossoming. He’s ready to take that next step but so far that big-racked buck has eluded him. He sees them at the check station in other hunters’ trucks and wonders what it takes to bag one of those bragging-sized brutes. He also considers that maybe his odds would be a little better if there were more of those bigger, older deer in the woods.

Denny works in the woods. He grew up in the woods and prefers to still-hunt on bare ground or track when there is sufficient snow. Opportunities in northern Maine are few and far between, and often fleeting. There’s no time to count points. He may only have a second or two to confirm the deer sports antlers before it vanishes into a dense copse of firs or cedar, taking with it what could be Denny’s only chance for the season.

Jeff works in an office. He hunted more often as a kid but now his deer hunting consists of five days at the family camp. It’s been five years since he shot a deer but he goes back each fall hoping maybe his luck will change. If not, he still enjoys the camaraderie and time spent outdoors, but it would be nice to be the guy receiving the high-fives and back slaps instead of always giving them.

Henry is an experienced hunter and won’t shoot a buck unless it’s at least 2-1/2 years old. His 10-year-old daughter just started hunting. Henry would like to see her one day reach his level, but for now just wants her to experience some success.

Mike is an accomplished hunter who takes one or two trips out of state each fall, where he hunts on well-managed private land, and also has the luxury of passing up younger deer and holding out for something bigger. He also has exclusive access to a moderate size tract of land in southern Maine. It’s big enough to afford an opportunity to hunt largely undisturbed deer, yet he’s frustrated that he must lower his standards at home because he knows that any young buck that wanders off the property will likely be shot by the first hunter that encounters it.

As long as opinions and motivations differ the debate will continue. Antler restrictions would benefit Maine’s deer herd and those hunters whose motivations lean toward a healthier herd with bigger deer, while also providing a much-needed economic boost by attracting more out-of-state hunters.

But there would be a sacrifice for that. Restrictions would take away the opportunities from those who are not concerned with the size or the sex of the deer that they would shoot.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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