Maine allotted a record 110,000 any-deer permits in 2020. Hunters harvested 33,157 deer last fall, the most in the state nearly two decades. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

How you rate a state in terms of its deer hunting is often a matter of perspective. Those who haven’t hunted outside of Maine may have a very different opinion of their home turf than those who have. Objective criteria exist, but there are far too many variables and differences between states to make direct comparisons.

Still, it’s enlightening to contrast and compare. The National Deer Association (recently combined from the Quality Deer Management Association and the National Deer Alliance) provides the most comprehensive numbers in its annual deer report, the most recent available from the 2018-19 seasons.

Let’s start with antlered buck harvest as that’s where the greatest interest lies. Pennsylvania led the northeast region with 147,750, followed by New York at 113,385. Maine was in the middle of the pack with 18,241, more than double the buck kill in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Of course, you have to consider things like geographic area, habitat and deer density. While Rhode Island finished last in total bucks killed at 994, that amounted to one buck harvested per square mile (BPSM), compared to 0.6 – lowest in the region – for Maine. Pennsylvania led that category at 3.3 BPSM, down 10 percent from the previous year.

Hunter density is also a factor, and an indication of odds for success. In the northeast region, Maine came in dead last with eight bucks killed per 100 deer hunters. Maryland and Virginia ranked highest at 50 and 48, respectively, with the rest of the pack averaging around 20.

Perhaps the closest comparison outside the region is Minnesota with its similar climate and habitat, which achieved a harvest of 1.2 BPSM and 16 bucks per 100 deer hunters.

An important variable, from both a management and hunting perspective, is age structure. A more balanced distribution means a healthier herd and better odds for a big buck. Nationwide, the proportion of yearling bucks in the harvest has been on a steady downward trend and hit a record low of 30 percent in 2018. Maine came in slightly above that at 39, which is about average for the northeast. While the percentage of harvested bucks 3 1/2 and older was not available, Maine has been around 25 percent in recent years, which surprisingly is on the low side for the region. Maine has long been known for its big (old) bucks and there are still plenty of them taken each year, but the higher yearling buck kill likely influences relative age in the harvest.

While bucks get the most attention from hunters, deer managers are often more concerned with does as they represent the reproductive potential. Mainers harvested 14,210 antlerless deer in 2018 at a similar rate of 0.5 per square mile and seven per 100 hunters. While it wasn’t the lowest overall harvest in the region, it was last in terms of success rate, and nearly half that of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Maryland led the region at 75 does per 100 hunters.

As part of their survey, the National Deer Association asked state biologists what their preference was for relative buck and doe harvests. States with high deer densities generally prefer higher antlerless harvests while those with stable or declining herds prefer to put more pressure on bucks. Maine is in the latter group and seems to have been successful in achieving that objective. However, it will be interesting to see final numbers from 2020, given the record number of any-deer permits given out.

Choice of weapon is another variable. State-by-state comparisons can’t really be made because regulations and seasons vary so much. Archery kills tend to be higher in smaller, more densely populated states, where bow seasons are longer and gun seasons shorter. Modern firearms reign supreme in Maine, accounting for more than 80 percent of the deer kill, compared to around eight percent for archery and seven percent for muzzleloaders. By comparison, more than half the New Jersey kill falls to bowhunters.

Ironically, about the only constant we have is change. Some Mainers were less than enthusiastic about several big changes this year. Time will tell whether the inclusion of crossbows during the regular archery season and abundant any-deer permits will negatively impact the deer herd, but thanks to a new computerized registration system, we no longer have to wait for overall harvest numbers. In 2020, Maine hunters harvested 33,157 deer, the most in nearly two decades. While it may not match up to some other states, there were a lot more happy hunters here last fall.

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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