Despite a fatal hunting incident on Saturday in which a New Gloucester man shot himself near Greenville, Maine’s firearms deer hunting season wound down Saturday with relatively few mishaps, according to state officials.
Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the firearms season for deer this year has been a relatively safe one. She said that aside from Saturday’s incident, seven or eight hunters have been hurt but most of those incidents were hunters shooting themselves in the foot.
Turcotte said harsh weather conditions last winter led to fewer deer being in the woods this hunting season.
“There haven’t been any deer,” Turcotte said.
Lee Kanter, deer and moose biologist with DIF&W, said Saturday that the department is predicting that the total number of deer taken this year will be about 24,000, or approximately 5,000 fewer than the roughly 29,000 that were shot in Maine in 2007. He said that Maine’s deer population has been shrinking and that last year’s snow cover, which was both deep and prolonged, certainly helped reduce it further. Snow is always more of an issue up north than it is in more southern parts of the state, he said, but the deer population is believed to be reduced statewide.
“Last year’s fawns would have been yearlings this year,” Kanter said. “Yearlings usually make up the majority of the deer harvest.”
Out of Maine’s 29 deer-hunting districts, 18 are bucks-only districts this year, which should protect the herd’s does and encourage a higher reproduction rate, according to Kanter. The lack of drought conditions this year also should help provide the nutrition the deer need to get through this winter, provided the season does not end up being another harsh one, he said.
“There was a lot of forage out there. We had a pretty good apple crop and a very good acorn crop,” Kanter said. “It will depend on this winter.”
He said the results of this year’s deer season largely will be determined by the muzzleloading season, which gets under way today. Muzzleloading will be permitted in all hunting districts through Dec. 6, but will be allowed in only about half of them from Dec. 8 to 13.
Game wardens have been busy, however, issuing citations for violations such as night hunting, not wearing orange safety clothing, illuminating fields and possession of firearms by a felon, officials said.
Sgt. Bill Chandler of the Maine Warden Service said Sunday that the most frequent hunting violation wardens have come across is baiting deer with apples or grain or other food sources.
“They’re basically trying to draw the deer to them,” Chandler said of the offending hunters.
He said the lower numbers of deer has led to fewer hunters in the woods.
“The number of hunters in the field seems to be down statewide as well,” Chandler said.
At approximately noon Saturday, several trucks with drivers wearing hunter orange came and went from the parking lot of the Otis General Store on Route 180, but only one of them had a deer in the back.
Richard Perry of Owls Head said he shot a buck with a .270-caliber rifle around 4 p.m. Friday on land he owns in Mariaville. He said it took him most of Friday evening to get the deer, which he estimated to weigh about 180 pounds, out of the woods.
“He’s an old fella,” Perry said to another hunter who came over to his truck to admire the buck. “He’s only got a few teeth on the bottom.”
Perry said he also hunts by bow and muzzleloader, and so even though it took him until the second-to-last day of firearms season to get a deer, he has not been concerned about missing out. A drywall contractor, Perry said some of his jobs have evaporated this fall due to the economy, leaving him more time to be in the woods.
“I wait all year to go hunting,” Perry said.
He was hesitant to guess whether there have been fewer deer about in the woods this year, however. He said his uncle owns several acres in South Thomaston, but that he had seen only one deer on his uncle’s land this fall.
“Just seeing them sometimes is luck,” Perry said.
Don Holt, owner of Otis General Store, said Saturday that 36 deer have been tagged at his business this month, about the same number as last year. He said that approximate number has been consistent over the past several hunting seasons.
“That’s pretty close to the norm,” Holt said. “It might be down a little bit, but not much.”
He said he has not seen any decline in the number of hunters, which is good for his business.
“I’ve seen quite a few guys out there trying [to get a deer], especially today, the last day,” Holt said. “It helps, especially in this economy.”