BANGOR, Maine — During an April wildlife management meeting, Mark Latti of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hinted that hunters ought to expect a much better shot at one of the state’s coveted “any-deer” permits this year, because a mild winter had taken a less-than-normal toll on the state’s deer herd.
On Monday, the state’s deer biologist, Kyle Ravana, said that should indeed be the case: A proposal making its way through the DIF&W’s rulemaking process calls for a 59 percent increase in those permits this year, from 28,770 a year ago to 45,755 for the coming deer season.
“But [those numbers] are kind of misleading, because it’s not an increase across the board,” Ravana said. “There are still a lot of [Wildlife Management Districts] — 12 districts — that don’t have any permit allocations due to being chronically under the goal [population].”
The state is divided into 29 Wildlife Management Districts. Hunters are awarded any-deer permits for a specific district via a state-run lottery. Hunters who possess an any-deer permit, often called a “doe permit,” are allowed to shoot deer of either gender. Those without those permits are required to target deer with antlers, which are typically male.
State wildlife biologists track winter severity each year because above-average amounts of snow on the ground pose challenges to deer seeking to find food. With no snow on the ground, deer are more free to travel at will to find food and avoid predators. The more snow, the more limited the deer are.
In order to reach publically derived population goals for each Wildlife Management District, biologists can change the number of any-deer permits allotted in a region. Removing a doe from the landscape doesn’t just remove a single animal, but also eliminates any offspring she may have produced in the future.
The proposal goes before the DIF&W commissioner’s advisory council. That process consists of three steps before eventual enactment. The proposal was introduced to the council on May 4, and is currently in “stage 2,” according to Latti.
“Most of the increase [in proposed any-deer permits] was experienced in districts where we generally have too many deer,” Ravana said. “They’ve been overpopulated [in those districts] for a number of years in regard to what our goals and objectives are. Despite having high permit allocations [in those districts] in the past, we haven’t been able to drive the populations down. So given that this was a really easy winter, we wanted to try to move the permit numbers up even further to try to bring those population numbers down.”
In response to winter severity, any-permit allocations have varied greatly over the past several years.
2016 (proposed): 45,755
In 2015, the DIF&W issued a few any-deer permits in two northern districts where no permits had been handed out for years. Ravana said an overbrowsing of deer wintering areas led biologists to conclude that there were too many deer competing for the same resources in those areas.
This year, more permits have also been added in districts 7, 12 and 13.
“We wanted to provide some level of opportunity — a very small level of opportunity — because we believe the deer population can [withstand] that,” Ravana said.
Deer research ongoing
Outdoors enthusiasts — especially those near central Maine’s WMD 17 — might start seeing deer wearing some interesting adornments, according to Ravana. The DIF&W has captured and fitted GPS collars on a number of adult female does. Other deer that have been captured, including fawns and bucks, may be sporting numbered ear tags as part of a long-term research project.
In addition, in northern Maine, the University of Maine at Fort Kent has also put collars on several deer.
The DIF&W effort began in the winter of 2014-15, and to date, a total of 48 collared deer are serving as the DIF&W’s study group in central Maine.
“The main goal of [the DIF&W] project is to update the winter severity index and to further understand how the winter affects deer populations,” Ravana explained. “The last time it was updated was in the ’90s, so with any sort of ecological relationship, as you get away from that initial analysis, the potential for error increases.”
The study will stretch through at least the next five years, and Ravana said the department may choose to collar deer farther north than WMD 17.
Ravana said that deer tend to move quite a bit between their summer and winter ranges, and those collared deer will allow biologists to track those movements.
The biologists have already seen some interesting movements.
“We did see some [deer] move out around 30 miles in just a couple of days,” Ravana said. “I’m kind of surprised … I didn’t expect a deer in [WMD] 17 to move that far. But they did. Most of the deer that have moved from the area where we captured them — about 30 percent of the total number of deer we’ve captured — have moved in the range of 2 to 4 miles. Not far at all.”
Ravana said the information gathered in this study will help biologists make better management decisions in the future.
“The key is to better understand what these animals are doing between summer and winter, and why,” Ravana said.