BANGOR, Maine — When the state’s deer hunters head into the woods en masse on Oct. 29 — the date of Maine’s residents-only opening day — they’ll likely have a harder time filling a tag than hunters in past years.
The state’s head deer biologist said on Thursday that a substantial reduction in the number of any-deer permits allotted, which allow hunters to target deer without antlers as well as antlered deer, will certainly reduce the total number of deer shot.
“The expectation from hunters should be that we are going to harvest less deer,” said Lee Kantar, a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist. “I think the buck harvest is going to be a little bit down. [But] the majority of the lower harvest is going to be in the antlerless harvest, and that’s done by design. This is done specifically to ensure that in our best deer units in south and central Maine we’re maintaining our population where we want it to be.”
Kantar’s preseason prediction is sobering.
“I think it’s going to be below 17,000. You’ve got to swallow hard on that, but it’s by design,” Kantar said, explaining that a variety of different data sources, including past harvest totals, winter mortality and severity and recent aerial survey work have indicated that a large reduction in any-deer permits was needed.
“This is where we need to go to ensure we’re on the right track,” Kantar said.
Putting the numbers in perspective: This year only 26,390 any-deer permits were issued. That’s the lowest during the any-deer permit era, which began in 1985. Just a year ago, 48,825 any-deer permits were allotted. In 2002, a record 76,989 any-deer permits were issued.
The recent record-low deer harvest in Maine came in 2009, when 18,092 deer were tagged. If that total indeed drops below 17,000 this year, as Kantar predicts, hunters likely will grow even more frustrated.
Earlier this year Gov. Paul LePage and DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock unveiled the state’s “Game Plan for Deer,” which is designed to address the effects plaguing the state’s deer herd. Among the reasons for the herd’s troubles, especially in certain northern and Down East regions, are two consecutive harsh winters, habitat concerns and predation by other animals, including coyotes.
Kantar said most hunters seem to understand and accept the reasons the DIF&W has reduced any-deer permits and said that the procedure for establishing the any-deer allotment has remained unchanged for years. He’s hopeful that reducing the permits this year will pay dividends in the future.
“The fact that it turned out to be such a large decrease this year may be a surprise to some folks, but to us it’s just the next installment to get to where we want to be,” Kantar said. “It certainly demonstrates that there’s lag effects from the ’08 and ’09 winters that we’re still feeling, and we’ll do what we can to bolster the herd.”
Still, the results Kantar hopes for are largely dependent on something he can’t control: the weather.
“Barring a tremendously bad winter in south and central Maine, things will be looking up and up, over time, in 2012 and beyond,” Kantar said.