February 5, 2023

Wildlife Biologist Lee Kantar From MDIF&W Explains Sunday Hunting

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Before you go getting too excited about the title of this blog, let me first explain that Mr. Kantar relates the possible affects having an additional day, Sunday, for hunters to hunt deer. His efforts were done from a scientific perspective which is exactly what I was seeking.

Perhaps I should make a couple clarifications about Sunday hunting first. There has been talk here and there about Maine offering Sundays as another day for hunters to have a chance to hunt. The working man feels that Sundays would give them some more free time to hunt as many work 6 or 7 days a week. For some, Sunday would be an only day they could hunt.

Those opposed to Sunday hunting say they don’t want hunters in the woods on Sundays. It robs them of one day a week during the deer season were they could be outside feeling safe.

Landowners have threatened to close their land to hunting if Sundays were allowed. There are many reasons a lot of people have come up with for and against the proposition.

I should make it clear that of any of the proposals that have been discussed about Sunday hunting, none involve big game hunting, i.e. deer, bear, moose, etc. It has just been about small game – upland birds, rabbit, etc.

I have made my position clear on numerous occasions as to where I have stood on this issue. In short, I am opposed to a Sunday hunt for big game because I fear having an extra day of hunting each week would in the long run end up shortening the season.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife does a pretty good job in maintaining our deer herd. One of the biggest tools they use in managing deer population is the issuing of Any-Deer permits. These fluctuate according to need. In other words, if hunter harvest increased because of 3 or 4 Sundays in November to hunt, fewer Any-Deer permits would be issued the following year. If that didn’t correct any upsurge in harvest numbers, a shortening of the season would be in order.

In my studies and travels around the country, I have come across several wildlife biologists who have said that in states that have a Sunday hunt, the extra day(s) had little or no effect on management goals for game populations.

This got me to thinking and so I sent an email to the MDIF&W and asked them if Maine had a position on this and if so what is it. I was elated to receive an email from Lee Kantar, a wildlife biologist from the department, who took the time to explain as best he could. As you will see from his response, there are too many unknowns to be able to be very definitive about this issue from a scientific perspective. Here is his response.

Dear Mr. Remington,

I currently work as the Deer Specialist for IFW, let me try to respond to the question you raised in your recent email regarding Sunday hunting and increased harvest.

One of the biggest influences on deer harvest is hunter effort-the number of days each hunter chooses to hunt. It appears over the last 2 decades that the total number of deer hunters has decreased while individual effort has increased. Part of this is due to the opportunity to hunt over a long season and ability to choose different hunting methods. An increase in hunter effort can result in additional harvest. Our management system is designed to make annual adjustments to our allowable harvest on does through the any deer permit system. Our system incorporates a strategic plan and management system that sets population density levels. This system has been highly effective in reducing or stabilizing deer densities in areas where densities have been too high and limits antlerless harvest where densities are too low. Each year we look at our harvest biological data and the performance of individual Wildlife Management Districts and make adjustments to the any deer permit numbers based on our density objective for the district. Our ability to achieve desired doe harvest levels has been fairly good and thus far our inability to increase deer densities in parts of the state has been due to factors other than hunting mortality (i.e., deer wintering areas). If a district experienced an overharvest of does in a given year, the result would be a reduction in any-deer permits the following year.

If Sunday hunting was allowed it would most likely increase overall hunting effort because it may be easier for an individual to hunt on weekends than during the work week. Would it also increase the number of deer harvested? Would it increase the number of deer harvested such that we would need to shorten the season (or change season structure in some other way)? What the harvest data has shown is that we experience a high harvest on opening day (60% more than the average Saturday during firearms in 2005), followed by relative steady harvests each week with a spike during the last week of firearms. Our firearm season is responsible for the bulk of the deer harvest (88% in 05’) and hunter participation and success with an associated increased harvest would likely show itself here. The next question would be what percent of successful Sunday hunters are the same hunters who would have hunted during the week and harvested a deer? Would a Sunday hunt affect participation and harvest rates during the week? This part of the equation we cannot predict, what is important is how the overall harvest looks like by district and in composition.

In addition to this, hunter success plays an important role in harvest fluctuations. Environmental conditions such as heavy rain or snowfall can be an important factor in harvest numbers. We have seen that our firearm success rate depends much on the number of Any-Deer permits that are issued. Any-Deer permittees because that can harvest a doe or fawn tend to have a higher success rate then buck only hunters. And buck-only hunters success hinges partially on the abundance of deer in that district. The last time we gauged hunter success rates the difference between Any-Deer permit holders and Buck-only hunters appeared to be 28-40% success versus 6-16%. While Sunday hunting means additional hunting days, environmental conditions and hunter effort impacts harvest numbers in ways that we cannot predict but can manage accordingly in the following year’s permit levels.

Additionally we have differences in participation in northern and southern Maine and Sunday hunting may have the potential to increase hunting participation from non-residents up north and residents in the south and central districts. Again low deer densities in the north and big woods country still allow for good buck escapement and may result only in negligible increases in harvest. South and central districts may experience increased harvest on the weekend with an associated decrease during the weekdays, since bag limits would not change. In the end given all the different factors, we would analyze the harvest data in relation to the management system goals and objectives that are in place and make adjustments as necessary. Having two weekend days to hunt does not necessarily guarantee increased hunter success, so while participation may increase, harvest and increased vulnerability would need to be closely watched to determine the magnitude of this additional opportunity.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send me an email or give me a call.

Lee Kantar
Wildlife Biologist-Mammal Group
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
650 State St.
Bangor, Maine 04401-5654

If you surmise as I did, my assumptions were not totally unfounded nor does it appear that 3 or 4 Sundays in November would have such an affect that is would cause the shortening of the overall season. It could happen but given the information shared with us by Mr. Kantar, it’s not real likely. This of course is my conclusion not his.

It appears that issues such as weather would have a greater affect than adding a few days. If this is true, I need to recant some of my previous statements as to why we shouldn’t have Sunday hunting. This doesn’t now mean I am for a Sunday hunt only that this argument appears to be moot.

Tom Remington