Each year I receive dozens of queries from hunters eager to find out how many deer Mainers tagged during the recently completed season.
That’s easy to understand: The number serves as a marker that helps indicate how healthy the deer herd is — if the herd is thriving and we’re being overrun by deer, that number grows; if the herd is struggling, that number falls.
I’ve come to believe that it also serves as a salve for the unsuccessful (like me), who can take solace in the fact that a particular season was particularly unsuccessful for hunters. (Don’t ask me how I explain myself during years when the deer harvest was robust).
On Wednesday, the state released its preliminary deer harvest total: 18,839 deer were tagged by hunters in Maine in 2011.
That’s far lower than it has been in some years, and a bit higher than preseason estimates of less than 17,000.
A few weeks back I spoke with biologist Lee Kantar, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s head deer biologist, who had said the total would come in above estimates.
And after another mild winter, the struggling deer herd should show more progress in 2012.
Here’s the text of the DIF&W press release issued on Wednesday:
AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine’s 2011 deer season resulted in a total harvest of 18,839 deer by resident and non-resident hunters. Although the winter of 2010-2011 was tough, especially mid-winter, snow disappeared rapidly and deer benefited from spring rains and a relatively early spring green up. Overwinter survival of fawns increased, giving a boost to yearlings available during the fall hunting season. Increased success by archers and youth hunters alike continues to demonstrate the allure of bowhunting, and the interest of young hunters in pursuing one of North America’s most exciting game species.
The change in last fall’s deer harvest by -6% compared to 2010 can be accounted for by the significant decrease in Any Deer Permits, designed to provide additional growth in the deer population across much of the state.
The Any-Deer Permit System allows IFW’s wildlife biologists to regulate the taking of antlerless deer. Since adult females are the most important element of the population from a reproductive standpoint, the 2011 decrease in Any-Deer permits will help ensure continued population growth for 2012 and beyond. The protection of antlerless deer resulted in a 23% decline in adult doe harvest and a 25% decrease in the fawn harvest. The adult buck harvest increased by 5% in 2011 compared to 2010. Combined with the mild winter of 2012 (to date), a higher rate of doe survival should be great news to Maine deer hunters and enthusiasts.
Other positive notes on the 2011 harvest include a 21% increase in the Youth Day harvest. Youth-hunters were allowed to take deer of either sex in Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) where Any-deer Permits were allocated for the regular rifle season. With a good stretch of fall weather, Youth-hunters capitalized on a great day. Archers also had a 29% increase in harvest during the Expanded and October seasons. Marsh Island, in the Orono / Old Town area, was opened to Expanded Archery for the 1st time; providing an important management tool for controlling deer numbers in a fairly urban setting where firearms are restricted. Archery hunting across the state continues to be both an excellent management tool in urban areas, as well as a great opportunity to test skill and knowledge against the superb senses of Maine’s white-tailed deer.
In much of the state, deer will be coming out of the 2011-12 winter in great shape. With warm weather on the horizon, the outlook for deer hunting in 2012 should be exceptional. Come Fall 2012, there will continue to be a variety of seasons to choose from, lots of room to roam and a diverse array of locations to hunt. We should expect both an increase in deer numbers and harvest for 2012 providing a great opportunity to hunt deer in Maine.
For more information in the 2011 deer harvest check out: http://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/harvest.htm