VERONA ISLAND, Maine — Dody Bridges loves the herds of deer that visit her home on East Side Drive every night. During her 20 years there, as many as 14 have gathered around her man-made pond at one time, so calm that they don’t stir when she plays music for them.
“You probably could throw a ball to the deer, but we don’t bother. And if I have a radio going, they stand right there, especially if it’s music,” Bridges said. “They love it, because they gather when there’s music playing. I’ve purposely gone out with the radio just to see their reaction.”
Encounters like Bridges’ illustrate data compiled by the state’s deer biologist that show this small island town across the channel from Bucksport is the place in the state where deer and humans encounter each other most. Two other Hancock County towns, Mount Desert and Penobscot, rank second and third, respectively, on the index compiled by Nathan Bieber of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
With firearms season for deer starting Saturday with Youth Deer Day, and the resident and non-resident deer season beginning Nov. 2 and Nov. 4, respectively, the index could be good news for nearby hunters, but not as positive for drivers and people who don’t like deer eating their shrubs.
Bieber uses a formula to develop a score for each town that incorporates the number of deer-vehicle crashes, deer nuisance complaints and reports of human Lyme disease over the past five years, in addition to the state’s deer management objectives. The goal is to find areas where deer and human interactions occur most, and to use the information to make the interspecies relationship more harmonious.
According to Bieber’s data, out of 917 municipalities, townships and plantations, Verona scored a 0.98. The town of Mount Desert scored a 0.97, and Penobscot tied with the Kennebec County town of Wayne for third with a score of 0.93. Arrowsic, in Sagadahoc County, scored fifth, with 0.90.
Bieber said it’s not surprising that Verona Island and Penobscot are in the top 3. They are in Wildlife Management District 26, where the state only issues about 250 doe and young buck hunting permits annually, so deer have a smaller chance of being hunted there.
The area’s milder winters also allow deer easier foraging for food and a greater chance of surviving the cold than in northern Maine, Bieber said.
Mount Desert makes the list because hunting isn’t permitted there. Islands are also typically less hunted than the mainland, he said.
“Land access is difficult, less appealing to hunters,” Bieber said. “Access is the big issue with islands. Finding land to hunt on and people willing to travel there is more challenging than in other places.”
Back in Verona Island, Bridges hung “No Hunting” signs on the 10 acres around her house years ago to prevent what she considers a nuisance — hunters parking near her property in search of deer crossing East Side Drive.
Hunters who like to stalk deer over long distances are more likely to avoid islands, Bieber said.
Scott Hanscom thinks hunting on Verona Island isn’t different from hunting elsewhere in Maine. The 53-year-old island resident said he hunts most every day he can, dividing time between Verona Island and his land in Orland.
“I think it all comes down to population,” Hanscom said of the prevalence of deer. “The more people you have, the more they get squeezed out.”
Verona Island has a lot of open spaces, mostly woods, he noted.
Verona Island also has a handful of people who feed deer, according to Hanscom and others gathered at the Fort View Variety convenience store Wednesday. Deer have also been known to swim to the island or cross its two bridges, Hanscom said.
Feeding deer is inadvisable, Bieber said. The deer become more acclimated to being fed than feeding themselves. Feeding them contributes to the spread of deer-borne diseases, and it brings deer in contact with roads where they are struck by vehicles, he said.
State officials can manipulate deer populations in given areas with deer repellent chemicals, fences and by issuing special permits to hunters. People who want deer removed from their property or neighborhood should contact the Maine Warden Service or biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Bieber said.
“Our goal,” Bieber said, “is to have a more harmonious relationship between deer and people.”