OLD TOWN, Maine — Monday’s icy drizzle likely dampened first-day participation in the only deer season on Marsh Island in recent memory, and the deer may not have been cooperating, either.
“Some of the hunters may have shown up late,” said Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “The visibility is low. It’s cold, it’s wet, and the deer are not moving due to the cold weather.”
Late Monday afternoon, Turcotte reported that just two deer — a mature doe and an eight-point buck — had been harvested.
Twenty bowhunters from around the state, chosen for their demonstrated expertise, recently were issued special permits to reduce the number of deer on Marsh Island, a designated game preserve since 1965. The hunt, which opened Monday and will run through Dec. 13, is limited to two parcels of land owned by the city of Old Town.
Turcotte said the state is “trying to stay focused on the task at hand” — monitoring the hunt, collecting data and effectively reducing the herd. She was reluctant to specify how many hunters signed in to hunt on Monday and said information about the number of deer harvested and other data probably will not be available until the hunt concludes.
Turcotte said the closely controlled hunt, which was approved as a one-time pilot project, provides an opportunity to collect accurate information about the size and condition of the deer herd. The hunters have been asked to compile information for the department, including the number and gender of deer observed, where the deer are located, the number harvested, their dressed weight and other data.
Should the hunt be repeated in the future, she said, data collected this year will be important to determining the appropriate number of permits to issue.
The burgeoning population of white-tailed deer on the island has been a source of controversy for many years. Some residents say the herd is a nuisance and a threat to public health and safety, while others enjoy the creatures and want to protect them from hunting. Both sides are concerned about how a hunt could be conducted safely on Marsh Island, which encompasses much of the populated portions of Orono and Old Town as well as the University of Maine campus and its agricultural and forestry lands.
After years of public debate, the Old Town City Council last month voted to support the limited bowhunting season on city-owned land, and the state enacted emergency rulemaking to allow it to happen this year.
Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle said Monday that she was not aware of any problems on day one of the hunt. She said her office had received no calls about the event other than from the news media.
“My guess is that it will probably go pretty uneventfully,” she said.
But Old Town resident Valerie Carr-Winocour, who feeds the deer in her yard on Gilman Falls Avenue, has consistently protested the idea of a hunt and is upset that it has gone forward. On Monday, she called bowhunting “barbaric and disgusting.”
Carr-Winocour, who recently lost her bid for the Senate seat occupied by Sen. Elizabeth Schneider of Orono, said she is gathering signatures from like-minded residents of Old Town to derail any plan to reprise the deer hunt in the future.
“This is not ever going to happen again,” she said.