Several weeks back I discussed antler restrictions and offered some reasons why they might not be widely accepted by some hunters. But I failed to mention a rather important point. A lot of folks have never hunted deer outside Maine. It’s all they’ve ever known and so they lack a relative perspective on how Maine deer hunting stacks up compared to other areas. Below I offer some figures to illustrate the point. The numbers are from the 2013 season because they were the most comprehensive available.

First let’s look at New England. In terms of total harvest, Maine stands clearly above the others at 24,795 deer, nearly double the next-closest states, Connecticut and New Hampshire, at just over 12,500 each. But Maine is a big state. In terms of deer harvested per square mile, Maine comes in last at 0.07. Connecticut and Rhode Island, the region’s smallest and most developed states, lead with hunters annually killing over two deer per square.

But somewhere between 85 and 90 percent of Maine is forested, most of which is open to hunting. Conversely, Connecticut and Rhode Island are a patchwork of forested and developed land, much of which is not open to hunting. And though Maine is seven times larger than Connecticut, its deer population is less than double that of Connecticut.

At one quarter the size of Maine, New Hampshire has about half as many deer.

Looking just outside the region, Maine’s annual deer kill is only a 10th of what hunters take in New York, a state half again as big as Maine, where the take averages just over four deer per square mile.

Of course, New York’s deer population is nearly 10 times that of Maine.

Meanwhile, diminutive Delaware is the only Atlantic coast state outside of New England with a lower deer kill than Maine’s, but their hunters take over seven deer per square mile each year.

What about just the archery harvest? Maine comes in second to last in New England at around 2,250, behind Connecticut (6,046), Massachusetts (4,896), New Hampshire (3,937) and Vermont (3,212). Connecticut bowhunters also lead on a geographic basis taking just over a deer per square mile with Rhode Island second at 0.75. Massachusetts and New Hampshire come in at just under .05 deer per square mile followed by Vermont at 0.33. Last is Maine at 0.06.

There are several things to consider when comparing these numbers. Outside of the expanded archery zones, Maine hunters are allowed only one deer a year whereas most other states allow hunters to take one or more deer during the archery season and then take additional deer during the firearms seasons. Furthermore, longer archery seasons and shorter gun seasons give bowhunters a decided time advantage in other states.

Geography is also important. Some folks might say it’s not fair to compare Maine to other states because their climate, habitat and deer management are so different.

But it might be fair to compare with New Hampshire, where all those variables are quite similar.

Again, on a square mile basis, New Hampshire’s overall deer kill is slightly less than double Maine’s, and the bow kill is seven times that of Maine.

Ontario might provide a fair comparison because its habitat and climate are similar, at least in the southern part of the province. Though its overall deer kill is nearly four times that of Maine, it’s only a 10th of Maine’s kill per square mile. Of course one must take into consideration that whitetails only inhabit about a third of the province. Much the same is true of neighboring Quebec, where they harvest three times as many deer as in Maine.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Surely there must be somewhere worse off than Maine?” There is. New Brunswick’s total deer kill is about one-third that of Maine and hunters only harvest about 0.1 deer per square mile.

Clearly we’re not going to win any awards for quantity, but what about quality? Most folks know the three key factors in producing a trophy buck are nutrition, genetics and age, with age being the most important and over which managers have the most control. Of the 13 Northeastern states from Maine to Virginia, Maine’s annual buck harvest has the second-lowest percentage of bucks 31/2 years old or older. The reason becomes more apparent when you see that Maine, at 62 percent, has the highest proportion of yearling bucks in its harvest of any state in the nation. As an interesting side note, New Brunswick’s is higher, at 63 percent, but it also has a slightly higher proportion of older deer as well.

Despite all this, many folks still staunchly defend the status quo for deer hunting in Maine.

Again, that may be because it’s all they’ve ever known. One should also consider that hunters on both sides of the antler restriction argument are ultimately in search of a quality buck, and while some give more weight to body and antler size, all strongly consider the quality of the experience as paramount.

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

[email protected]