If you were one of the successful moose hunters who took part in the September and October seasons, you no doubt realize that most of your fellow hunters also filled their tags.
That’s the way Maine’s modern hunt is: A hefty percentage of hunters find the moose they’re looking for and pack away a winter’s worth of meat for their efforts.
You may be interested to know, however, just how successful the state’s hunters were this fall.
In a word: very.
According to Lee Kantar, the state’s head moose biologist — and also the go-to guy on deer — preliminary numbers have been crunched, and the total is impressive.
Kantar said 76 percent of the 2,880 permits for the September and October seasons were filled. A year ago, just 71 percent of tags were filled.
“There’s a few more. Moose are reported by district, and there are always a few moose and deer where you get the information back but there’s no district associated with it,” Kantar said.
Thus far, 2,202 of the 2,880 permits have been filled.
Kantar attributed much of the increase to Mother Nature.
“I definitely think that we had outstanding weather, and I do think that was a pretty important part of it,” he said.
During deer season, “hunter effort” is often cited as a key component in determining the total harvest. Kantar said some hunters buy permits but never actually go deer hunting. During moose season, that’s not the case, and nearly every moose hunter heads afield, he said.
Kantar stressed that the initial harvest total is preliminary, and that he hasn’t had a chance to study the numbers more carefully yet.
“I haven’t looked yet at a comparison between the September and October hunt this year versus last year,” he said. “We may be able to tease apart, did we have an increase in success from September versus October. I think we should be able to do that.”
Official numbers won’t be released for some time yet, and the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife has yet to receive totals from the ongoing fall season.
This year the two-session moose hunt was expanded to include a third season in some more southerly Wildlife Management Districts. That monthlong opportunity for 135 lucky hunters stretches through the November firearms season on deer, and is in full swing.
Deer season update
Kantar took time out from his duties to talk a bit about the current deer season, and said the difficulty some hunters are having is to be expected.
You might remember that Kantar and his co-workers released a preseason estimate that far fewer deer would be shot this year due to the harsh winter we most recently endured.
On Wednesday, Kantar reiterated exactly how harsh that winter was, explaining that each year state biologists track winter conditions, and the DIF&W reports its winter severity numbers to federal agencies. Kantar recently completed the state’s accounting of last winter’s weather.
“We look at the number of days that deer yarded, [with] a minimum of 10 inches of snow on the ground,” Kantar said. “We measure winter severity for 20 weeks. That’s 140 days. The statewide number of yarding days was 140 days.”
And that’s not even telling the whole story, Kantar said.
“It was beyond what we even measure, because if we recall, in December, when we put out our winter stations, we already had snow on the ground,” he said. “When we pulled our stations in April, we still had snow on the ground.”
There’s no component in the process to allow for a state to have more than 140 days of winter yarding conditions, but if there had been, Maine would have taken advantage of it during the most recent winter, Kantar said.
“I’m hearing a lot of different things from the regional biologists across the state and it has been pretty much what I expected, which is a decrease in the harvest and a change in the harvest,” Kantar said.
The winter was especially tough on does and this season’s yearlings, and he said harvest totals likely would illustrate that.
Yearling bucks typically make up a larger proportion of the deer harvest each year, and that number may drop this year, Kantar said.
The flip-side: Hunters who are seeing deer may be encountering bigger, more mature bucks.
“What we should be seeing is more, older bucks out there, meaning 2½ [years] and older, who had a better chance of survival than the yearlings did,” Kantar said.
Kantar said the yearlings he has seen have been large, with well-developed antlers for their age, but said that it appears more older bucks have been shot than in the past two years, when mild winters prevailed.
And yet another update
As for me, deer season has just taken a turn for the better. I know … I don’t often say that.
I have officially seen my first deer in … in … well, let’s just say it’s been a couple of years.
“What kind?” my friends ask, clearly curious to know if the deer had antlers or not.
“A brown one,” I answer, since I’m not exactly sure if the galloping critter that caught wind of me was a buck, a doe, or, for that matter, a racehorse.
For the sake of this column, I’ll call it a deer, and leave it at that. I saw brown legs. I saw feet. I saw a body, as the high-speed hoofer bolted for the next county.
You might call the episode frustrating.
Me? Well, my expectations are low. My past experiences have been infrequent. And I call this progress.