Changes to Maine’s deer permit system now require hunters to pay $12 to obtain an antlerless permit, but they will be able to harvest both a buck and a doe. AP Photo/David Duprey

Change is difficult for some folks, especially Mainers, and Maine hunters in particular. Such was the case back in 1986 when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was authorized to regulate antlerless deer harvest using an any-deer permit system. Previously, hunters were allowed one deer per year of either sex. The change wasn’t well received at first, particularly by hunters who merely wanted to harvest any deer, and weren’t concerned about antlers. However, it was necessary in order to more effectively manage the state’s deer population; and folks got used to it.

The system worked pretty well for a while, but recent years saw an increasing trend where hunters weren’t meeting IFW’s antlerless harvest objectives. After several meetings including public input, the folks at IFW decided it was time for a new system that is in place for the 2022 hunting season. Like the previous change, it has not been universally well received, and has already resulted in some confusion.

Under the previous system, successful applicants in the permit lottery received an any-deer permit that allowed them the option of taking either a buck or a doe for their one-deer annual bag limit. In some areas with higher deer densities, IFW also issued bonus permits that allowed hunters to take an additional antlerless deer.

The new system has several significant differences. First and foremost, instead of an either-sex option, successful applicants will receive an antlerless permit, meaning it can only be used for an antlerless deer. However, this will be in addition to the one buck allowed under a regular big game hunting license. That increases the potential bag limit for permit holders to two deer, one buck and one antlerless deer.

One down side, at least from the applicant’s perspective, is that far fewer (37%) permits will be issued, 96,340 in 2022 compared to 153,910 in 2021. However, there’s a logical reason for the reduction. Because it is an antlerless-only permit for an additional deer, it is expected that hunters will be more willing to use that permit to take a doe, so fewer permits will be required to achieve the state’s objective harvest of roughly 14,000 does. Previously, hunters with an any-deer permit often held out waiting for a buck, and many of those permits went unused, which is why harvest objectives weren’t met.

Another down side is that there is now a $12 fee for permit recipients. Like the decline in permit numbers, this change also has a silver lining. Money collected through the lottery system (roughly $1.1 million in 2022) will go into IFW’s deer fund. There, it will be combined with other funds appropriated through recent legislation, where it can then be matched by federal money at a 3:1 ratio, and used to acquire and manage deer wintering habitat.

If you’re a hunter who applied to this year’s lottery, your odds of drawing a permit went down by about 40%. However, if your name is drawn on Sept. 1, your bag limit doubles. If available permits for a particular district exceed the number of applicants, additional permits will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Time will tell if the new system helps IFW better meet harvest objectives. It will, in all likelihood, also heal the wounds of those who find this system objectionable; it will just take a little getting used to.

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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