NORTH YARMOUTH, Maine — Steve Dunsmoor was fast at work behind the counter, tapping new arrow points into aluminum shafts for a nearby customer.
But Dunsmoor took a moment’s break to lament a revised ordinance in Falmouth that restricts bow hunting from some town-owned properties. For bow hunters, the loss of any potential hunting grounds is a sad occasion.
“I don’t want to lose any more land,” said Dunsmoor, owner of Lakeside Archery. “We lose enough to tar and cement already.”
Falmouth, along with much of coastal southern Maine, is teeming with deer. A narrow swath of land stretching from the Piscataqua River to the Kennebec, known as Wildlife Management District 24, is home to more than 4,000 deer and has been set aside for an expanded hunting season for archers.
The area is in the unique position of having too many deer and not enough open space to safely hunt them with rifles.
If hunting grounds for bow hunting begin to dwindle, some worry that controlling deer populations might become even trickier.
Kyle Ravana, Maine’s deer specialist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said there are about 4,300 deer in WMD 24, or about 20 deer per square mile.
“It’s higher than what we’d like to see,” he said.
The target population is about 3,200 deer, or 15 deer per square mile.
Surprisingly, the area can provide enough food and habitat to sustain even more deer than exist today, but residents want to limit the numbers, he said.
In 2000, the wildlife department consulted with town representatives to determine acceptable population goals. Fifteen deer per square mile was chosen as a means to reduce garden damage, deer-car collisions and exposure to Lyme disease.
To cull the numbers, the state set up the expanded archery season in WMD 24 and a few other parts of the state. This year, the season runs from Sept. 7 through Dec. 14 — more than two months longer than firearm season.
There are simple reasons for this, Ravana said. Firearms restrictions are widespread along the coast, so the state expanded archery season in hopes that “people would be more apt to allow hunting on their land with archery tackle.”
Bow hunting isn’t as efficient as firearms, so the season was lengthened to accommodate the slow pace of harvesting. The state also allows bow hunters to buy one buck permit and unlimited permits for antlerless deer for the expanded season.
“There’s really no other way to get at those populations,” Ravana said.
The revised ordinance in Falmouth won’t amount to much on its own, but if restrictions along the coast become more commonplace, troubles could arise, he said.
“It’s tough. These expanded archery zones were set up specifically to get at these animals; to let archers harvest as many animals as they can,” he said. “Any time there are ordinances that prevent that, it could potentially impact our ability to manage a population in an area.”
State wildlife biologist Cory Stearns believes the state can still deal with deer populations, even if more hunting grounds disappear.
“The (hunting) lots are becoming smaller and smaller, but there are opportunities around,” he said. “We’re always evaluating the deer population. If we need to expand the hunting season further to get the population down, then we can do that.”
A different kind of hunt
Dunsmoor has owned his archery shop since 1990. His sprawling wooded lot on Cumberland Road boasts a mixture of indoor and outdoor ranges, plus about 30 foam animal targets set up around the property like a golf course.
In Dunsmoor’s estimation, archery is becoming more popular. He credits the 2012 summer Olympics and movies like “Brave” and “The Hunger Games” for the increased interest.
Perhaps as a result, archery also appears to be growing in popularity among women, he said. The archery shop has sold about 30 pink compound bows to women in the past three years.
Dunsmoor, 64, wasn’t always an archer. In his early adulthood, he was a firearms hunter. When he turned 45, however, he decided he wanted to spend more time in the woods, so he increased his pre-season scouting. He quickly noticed that he preferred the warmer weather and pleasant foliage of September and October over the austerity of November. Plus, there weren’t “a bunch of hunters out.”
So, he picked up a bow.
“When I first started, everything I could possibly do wrong went wrong,” he said. But, he kept at it and “archery just kept blooming and blooming for me.”
Gary Peters, a 55-year-old bow hunter from New Gloucester, said he enjoys archery season because its safer and also more challenging. Peters eschews powerful compound bows in favor of traditional long bows or recurve bows for hunting, which require him to get closer to his quarry.
“Firearms are a little too automatic. You’re able to shoot too far. There are too many people with weapons that can shoot too far,” Peters said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone being shot by a bow.”
Bow hunting is also peaceful, in part because “there’s no ‘bang’ to start the scene,” he said. Also, the pursuit requires intense patience.
“When you shoot an animal, you just leave it alone,” he said. “You sit very quietly for at least a couple of hours, because these weapons cause hemorrhaging, not trauma. They’re bleeding to death.
“With a rifle, they’re blasted and the trauma will knock them down. With a bow, you’ll shoot a deer and he doesn’t know it,” Peters said. “The arrow will pass straight through him. He’ll feel a sting, but he doesn’t know what happened. He’ll trot off, but then he’ll start eating again and just be normal. You have to just wait for him to grow tired and lay down.
“You just let them pass in a serene, peaceful way.”
Peters said it’s always unfortunate when ordinances restrict hunting, but it’s just a drop in the bucket in terms of hunting grounds in southern Maine. Still, he doesn’t buy the argument that bow hunting is unsafe, and he believes the story that caused Falmouth officials to restrict bow hunting doesn’t add up.
On Sept. 23, the Town Council banned bow hunting on several town-owned properties where traditional hunting with shotguns is already prohibited.
Councilor Chris Orestis said he brought the issue to the council after he saw bow hunters trekking through the parking lot at the Falmouth Shopping Center on U.S. Route 1 in “full pursuit of deer.”
“It was just so in the mainstream and so out of place, and quite frankly, shocking,” Orestis said at the meeting.
Peters said that’s a dubious claim.
“When was the last time you saw a deer in a parking lot?” he said, adding that most hunters are too respectful to march through a highly public area with weapons.
Orestis didn’t respond to a reporter’s phone message seeking response to Peters.
Peters also said that archery is not a danger to anyone who might be in the vicinity. The effective range of a bow is about 30 yards, or even closer with traditional gear. The sport requires the hunter to sit perfectly still, on the ground or in a tree stand, and wait for the deer to wander into the kill zone. When it does, the hunter has to hit a very small area within the deer’s vital organs. It’s such a deliberate process, that there’s little room for error, Peters said.
Stearns agreed that bow hunting presents very few dangers. He’s not sure of the exact range of an arrow, but “they don’t travel that far,” he said.
“Archers are usually in tree stands shooting down toward the ground, so the range wouldn’t be much farther than the deer they’re shooting at, which is about 30 yards,” he said.
Deer are the most common animals hunted in Falmouth. In 2012, hunters killed and registered 85 deer in Falmouth, according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Statewide, hunters killed more than 21,400 deer.
The expanded ordinance now specifically prohibits bow hunting in public areas where hunting with firearms was already banned: school properties, Community Park, Walton Park, Pine Grove Preserve and the Town Landing, among others.
The vote, however, does not prohibit bow hunting during the appropriate season in the area around the Route 1 shopping center, Poore said. Property managers would have to post a no-hunting sign to prevent hunting there because the ordinance does not include private property, he said.
State law allows hunting on private property unless otherwise posted, although hunters may need property owners’ consent.