AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists are preparing reports that may help hunters in the weeks ahead.
“Deer season in the Moosehead region ended up about where we expected,” said DIF&W biologist Doug Kane. “Most of the stations were at or above where they were last year.”
In fact, Kane said that most of the stations were up about 25 percent, and only one tagging station in the area was the same as last year. Results have shown both good winter survival and reproductive rates also
“The yearling and two and a half year olds showed up very strong in the harvest,” said Kane. “That bodes very well for the future.”
Kane noted that there were a number of bucks that were taken over 200 pounds, but maybe a little less than what many expect. Those age classes were hit hard by the bad winters in 2008 and 2009. Still, things look good for the years ahead.
“There are a lot of happy hunters this year,” said Kane. “There was a lot of deer activity and a lot of deer sightings. All those signs point to a very good future.”
Kane did note that he expected to see more bear harvested during the deer firearm season, but that did not materialize.
“There was a very strong beech nut crop this season, and I thought that we would see more bears taken,” said Kane, “but even with the strong food year, it looks as though most bears denned up early.”
“We had some great tracking snow on Monday, and we are already seeing some muzzleloaders getting deer,” said wildlife biologist Mark Caron. In the Enfield area and parts of Washington County, there was five inches of snow. “That was the day to go muzzleloading.”
Throughout the region, every deer tagging station showed an increase in numbers.
“Everybody was up. In Shin Pond, they registered a little over a hundred deer, and there were similar stories elsewhere. They even ran out of tagging books in some regions,” said Caron.
“It was a good year, people were seeing deer and taking deer, and the good weather carried through the season,” he said.
Caron noted there were a lot of nice deer in the 180- to 200-pound range, although he didn’t see many over 250 pounds. He did note a lot of yearlings and two and a half year olds in the harvest.
“Most hunters weren’t waiting. They were shooting if they saw a deer,” said Caron. “Over the past few years, I think many hunters have gotten into the habit of shooting when they see one.”
Grouse hunters are still out. While some of the roads may not be great, bird hunters can still be seen walking the woods roads.
“Some hunters who tagged out early on deer still go out and hunt. While the roads are starting to get a little worse, hunters are still getting out and walking,” said Caron.
Up in the County, it’s been a good deer season.
“The deer harvest looks to be up about 20 percent in our area. Individual tagging stations are up between 10 and 50 percent for the season,” said DIF&W biologist Amanda DeMusz, who noted that the Gateway in Ashland had registered more than 230 deer for the season.
Deer weights have been strong, with several over 200 pounds, but many in the 150 pound range and above. The Gateway had 40 deer registered over 200 pounds.
“Everyone seems to be talking about the deer being bigger and heavier,” said DeMusz.
Bird hunters are still seeing birds, but grouse hunters may want to look up when they are looking for birds.
“The grouse are spending a lot of time in trees with the cold weather,” said DeMusz. “Particularly in spruce and fir trees.”
Coverts that were productive in the early fall might not be as productive now, as the conifers provide some degree of shelter for the birds. Once the snow gets deeper, they will be on the ground more often.
Snowshoe hare are also becoming more visible, or invisible, depending on the amount of snow. Hare are losing their summer colors and are turning white, but most right now have a mottled look to them. Snowshoe hare season runs through the end of March.
Southern Lakes Region
Region A wildlife staff has been busy throughout York, Cumberland and Oxford counties collecting scientific samples from harvested deer.
“The number of deer harvested is certainly higher than it has been in recent years,” said DIF&W biologist Scott Lindsay. “We are seeing good representation of multiple age classes throughout. Our staff has seen more deer this season than we have seen in a while.”
Lindsay noted that overall, the health of the deer he has seen is excellent.
“I have seen fawns that are near 70 pounds, and a good percentage of bucks in the 230-pound class,” said Lindsay, who noted that deer winter survival has been good, remarking about several does who were so old, their teeth were practically worn down.
Pheasant season is ongoing, and one club in Wells has one more release of 100 birds planned at the Bragdon Pit site. For more information on the release, visit maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/pheasant.htm
Grouse season is still ongoing, and Lindsay noted that harvested grouse have a lot of winterberry in their gizzard. Look for bright red berries on an otherwise drab backgroundto find grouse.
Central and Midcoast
After a hectic first three weeks of the deer season, unsettled weather calmed things down in Region B.
“The last week of the season, the numbers just seemed to fall off the table,” said DIF&W biologist Keel Kemper. “We got all that rain, the wind, and then it froze. It was like walking on potato chips in the wood.”
With that type of weather, it was no wonder the numbers went down.
“Effort was way down [the final] week. Effort drives success, so when effort is down, so is success. Still, numbers for this season will be up. I thought it was going to be way up, but the last week slowed things down.”
With the wild weather the last week of the firearm season, many hunters who were waiting to “cash in” their any-deer permits were unsuccessful, but now look towards the muzzleloading season as one last chance.
“There appears to be a fairly strong muzzleloading contingent as we are seeing a larger muzzleloading harvest,” said Kemper, who added that he has seen some really big bucks at the meat cutters since the muzzleloading season began.
Unsettled weather the last week of the firearms season impacted deer hunters Down East.
“The good hunting conditions we had didn’t hold through the last week, and that tempered effort and success,” said biologist Tom Schaeffer. “Last week presented its challenges, but overall, things look encouraging.”
However, Schaeffer noted that the deer harvest is certainly up in the coastal part of Washington County.
The coastal and southern waterfowl zones are still open for duck hunting.
“Typically, the trend is that hunters turn to waterfowl. Ponds are skimming over, and there is some good late season duck hunting in Washington and Hancock County,” said Schaeffer. “If you like grouse hunting, many woods roads remain open, and typically there’s not a lot of snow this time of year so there is pretty good access.”
In Region D, the early numbers point to a successful deer season.
“The Rumford tagging station, our biggest tagging station, keeps meticulous records, and they are up a lot from last year, probably a 25 percent increase,” said DIF&W biologist Chuck Hulsey.
“Hunting conditions for the season were pretty good for not having snow,” said Hulsey, “and throughout the season, I never got a complaint about the deer season, which is unusual.”
Waterfowl season is now over as well in Region D. One hunter had an interesting observation on the season, which was not as productive as it usually is for him. This hunter walks into different areas, hunting small waterholes. He had a “terrible” year because a lot of the areas that he hiked into were completely dry due to lack of rain.
Grouse hunting continues through the end of the month, and hunters might get a shot at some well-educated grouse by driving the many logging roads in the area.