Expanded archery season for deer – in very limited areas – opens the Saturday after Labor Day and runs through mid-December. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

The moment of truth was close at hand. A yearling doe was slowly making her way in my direction and now stood just steps away from the opening I hoped she would soon enter. A sudden noise distracted her and she spun her head to the right, eyes forward, ears perked up and legs stiff as she prepared for a hasty exit should danger present itself.

Barely 100 yards away, a homeowner exited a rear doorway onto his deck, took three steps down then disappeared around a garage toward the driveway. The doe stood silent and rigid for several minutes before flicking her tail signaling all is well, then stepped into the shooting lane. The nearly silent shot was true and after a 40-yard dash she piled up beneath a stunted scrub oak. Moments later the homeowner returned around the garage, back up the steps onto the deck and into the house, totally unaware of what just had transpired.

Many people’s vision of deer hunting in Maine involves cutting the track of a north woods giant in the snow and following it across miles of undeveloped wilderness. Far more hunters spend their time stationary, sitting on a stump or possibly an elevated platform overlooking a large field, a grassy fen or a block of mixed forest. There’s also a fair number who ply their avocation in areas and under circumstances that might seem rather unconventional to those unfamiliar with Maine’s expanded archery hunt.

The expanded archery season began in 1997 as an effort to reduce deer numbers in areas where firearms hunting was considered unsafe or impractical, leaving deer population growth relatively unchecked. The original hunting zone included a narrow strip along the southern coast running roughly from Brunswick to the New Hampshire border. Hunters were allowed one deer of either sex in addition to the standard one deer by any method during any season. The expanded zone has since grown to include 10 more areas in places like Lewiston, Augusta, Bangor and the coastal islands, to name a few. The bag limit now includes one antlered deer and unlimited antlerless deer.

The bowhunter’s impact is relatively minimal. In 2019, they killed 2,180 deer during both the expanded and statewide regular archery seasons, most coming from the former. It’s less than one-tenth of the total statewide deer kill, but the effort and harvest are concentrated in very small geographic areas where deer reduction is most needed.

Hunting conditions within the expanded zone vary considerably. In some areas you may be in large, forested blocks where you could be a half-mile or more from the nearest house or road. In others, you could be close enough to see passing traffic and hear distant conversations, or watch people exiting and entering their homes.

There’s little need for concern about safety. While a practiced and proficient hunter could shoot longer distances under controlled circumstances, most shots are made inside a quarter of the length of a football field. Furthermore, most archers hunt from elevated stands so their shots are at a steep, downward angle. A miss simply results in a muddy broadhead.

Bowhunters are stealthy and unobtrusive; they have to be in order to be successful. Most people who live in the expanded archery zones are probably unaware of their presence, but they’re out there doing their job, helping to reduce damage to garden crops and ornamentals and reduce the general public’s risk of Lyme disease or car-deer collisions.

Maine’s expanded archery season begins the Saturday after Labor Day and runs continuously into mid-December. As noted above, bowhunters who purchase an either-sex permit can take one buck or doe, and multiple antlerless permits. Hunting areas are scattered throughout the state, mostly in developed areas where deer depredation, property damage and Lyme disease are more prevalent and deer numbers exceed levels the general public will tolerate. Good luck to all the bowhunters this season and be safe.

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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