These whitetail does check out a nearby hunting party in northeast Somerset County during the moose hunt in October 2017. Credit: Pete Warner

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife estimates that during any given year, between 12 and 15 percent of the state’s deer hunters succeed in filling their tag and filling their freezer.

When the firearms season begins with Maine residents’ opening day on Saturday, there are a few ways to increase your odds of ending up among those happy hunters.

Nathan Bieber, the DIF&W’s deer biologist, said all indications point to a large, healthy deer herd. Add to that the fact that the department issued a record 84,745 any-deer permits, and you’ve got the makings of a season to remember.

“In general, we’re expecting an increased harvest,” Bieber said. “Part of that’s due to the number of [any-deer] permits that we’ve put out, but just in general the herd is up in most areas so we’re anticipating a decent sized increase in the overall harvest.”

That’s impressive, as last year’s harvest — 27,233 — was the highest in a decade.

Bieber said that regardless of the weather on Saturday, the residents-only opener will draw a large contingent of hunters to the woods. In fact, historic numbers show that on the first Saturday of the season, between 10 and 15 percent of the total deer kill will be achieved.

“And if you plot hunter effort beside that, as far as hours of effort afield, that’s about the same: About 10 to 15 percent of the total hours invested will be on Day 1,” Bieber said.

So what does that mean to hunters?

Bieber said hunters who take advantage of the opening-day bustle could benefit.

“Given that most of the hunter activity occurs on opening day, there’s a lot more folks in the woods, and deer are going to be moving around quite a bit more,” Bieber said. “So, if you’re going to stay out in the woods all day at all during the season, do it on Day 1. I know a lot of people like to pack it up around lunch and head back out in the evening, but if you’re going to put in a full day, do it on the opener.”

The deer harvest totals for the past 11 years:

— 27,233 in 2017

— 23,512 in 2016

— 20,325 in 2015

— 22,490 in 2014

— 24,217 in 2013

— 21,365 in 2012

— 18,839 in 2011

— 20,063 in 2010

—18,092 in 2009

— 21,062 in 2008

— 28,885 in 2007

The DIF&W has extensive information about deer and deer hunting on its website. Among the tips the department offers:

—- Look for deer in wet areas along streams, swamps and lakes during hot, dry weather.

— Hunt during mid-day. Big bucks often move at this time.

— Look for the most nutritious foods currently available in your hunting area. Deer will be nearby.

— When you locate doe and fawn family groups, bucks will be there too, any time in November.

Another piece of advice: State wildlife officials are hoping hunters voluntarily stop using certain deer lures to help ensure that chronic wasting disease isn’t inadvertently introduced here in Maine. The fatal deer disease has been detected in a farm-raised deer in Quebec.

“Urine-based lures are legal in Maine currently, but we encourage folks to use, instead, synthetic lures,” Bieber said. “There are plenty of those out there and they don’t carry any risk of CWD, where natural urine products may.”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...