November 29, 2023

My Maine Hunting Trip Revealed a Predator Pit

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This year marked the 37th year of Maine hunting camp, hunting from the same old camp and in the same location as I have for the duration. I believe that what I am now witnessing in this location is a classic predator pit.

Four things must occur to create a dreaded predator pit. In brief they are:

1.) Denial that predators are having an effect on deer herds. This cannot be disputed as Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) officials continue to insist that even though they acknowledge the presence of predators, i.e. coyotes, bears, bobcat and lynx, they blame any loss of deer mostly on weather and loss of habitat. And I will once again beat the old drum and ask, if it’s loss of habitat then why are many of our deer wintering areas not filled with deer?

2.) Over protection of predators; often the result of fear created by relentless lawsuits by environmentalists and animals rights groups. With protection of predators, populations of those predators grows too large. More predators means more mouths to feed which in turn means a greater loss of deer. Consider the fear of MDIFW and the Maine Guides Association over implementing a spring bear hunt out of fear of another lawsuit. Consider the lawsuits concerning the Canada lynx that has put a huge dent in trappers’ ability to take coyotes in order to curb growth.

3.) With denial by wildlife officials that predators seriously can affect deer herds and predators being protected for various reasons, deer herds begin to plummet. And even with the decrease in deer, officials continue to deny what the real problem might be, still allowing for predator protection and with the drop in deer numbers, hunters are getting fewer and fewer opportunities to take deer. Maine has seen serious opportunities taken away with the ban on taking antlerless deer in most all of northern, eastern and parts of western Maine and an overall reduction in Any-Deer Permits statewide.

4.) On the verge of a classic predator pit. With steps 1-3 in place, Maine or at least in areas such as the area I have hunted for 37 years, likely needs more than just overblown populations of predators to cause a predator pit. Too much hunting, could bring the deer herd to dangerously low levels. I don’t think MDIFW has done this although I do believe that had they been on top of deer management better than they have, they would have reduced or eliminated Any-Deer Permits much earlier than they did.

Another event could be a complete destruction of habitat, which in my opinion does not exist but only perhaps in some pockets…..although that claim will be disputed. I know in my area of hunting, there is excellent habitat for deer with nearby wintering areas.

A third major event may be a severe winter or perhaps two or more of them back to back. Maine had those and I will not dispute the fact that those back to back severe winters took it’s toll on the deer herd and this holds true where I hunt.

What we have in place now are an overgrown and over protected population of predators, and a severely reduced population of deer. Dr. Charles Kay, a top wildlife ecologist in the U.S. today and an Adjunct Assistant Professor and a Senior Research Scientist at Utah State University, explained the perils of the dreaded predator pit this way:

If ungulate populations have been reduced by severe weather, human over-exploitation, or other causes, wolves and other predators can drive ungulate numbers even lower and maintain them at that level. This condition is called a predator pit and there is no field evidence that ungulates can escape from a predator pit even if hunting is banned, unless wolves and other predators are reduced by direct management actions, i.e. predator control.

Even though this year at hunting camp, I saw and heard far fewer indications of coyotes, there still exists bear and bobcat. In some areas where I hunt, I witnessed signs of a bit more deer activity but this is typical of a predator pit. I believe the numbers will never rebound until predator numbers are reduced. A full week of hunting by 6-8 hunters produced the sighting of 2 deer. That’s pathetic! In addition, it is safe to say the area is not over hunted. The entire week we saw two other hunters in the area.

Read more about predator pits.