December 2, 2022

Is Maine’s Deer Herd Bouncing Back?

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Perhaps. According to an article by V. Paul Reynolds, anecdotal evidence is suggesting that more deer are being seen due to three relatively mild winters in a row.

This may or may not be an accurate assessment of reality. I have seen less deer this summer than last and as of right now it appears that our resident deer mom may have had her fawn(s) gobbled up by coyotes. One night while sleeping, I heard a pack of coyotes not too far from camp and I wondered if they had gotten the fawn(s).

Spotting deer from the normal human haunts is not a reliable source for providing data to determine a growing or shrinking deer herd. It’s not as simple as, “I see more deer therefore there must be more deer.” However, from my perspective the attitudes of some hunters has changed and they feel a bit more optimistic about the future of the deer herd. The question remaining in my mind is this: What has the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), along with the thousands of sportsmen, done to limit the destruction the next time one or two, maybe three, bad winters in a row hit the Pine Tree State?

Mr. Reynolds makes mention of Maine’s attempts at coyote control saying, “A carefully coordinated coyote predation program may have helped, too.” Maybe…..maybe not! It certainly did not make things worse but the future of any coyote control programs remains unclear due to opposition and pressure being put on MDIFW to stop killing predators, as well as funding. In addition, Craig Dougherty, in Outdoor Life Big Buck Zone, writes of findings from studies conducted by Dr. Karl Miller on deer and coyote interactions.

Coyotes are hitting the southeastern U.S. particularly hard. Reports of fawn predation are rampant with many landowners reporting rapidly declining deer densities. University of Georgia professor, Dr. Karl Miller believes coyotes to be a real threat to whitetail populations in certain areas. Trapping, thought by many to be a viable solution, may not be. Miller and his graduate students have done extensive work with coyotes and have concluded that it is difficult if not impossible to trap out a coyote population. At best, you can reduce populations temporarily.

“One thing for sure” says Miller, “You need to be constantly monitoring your fawn recruitment. We can no longer be shooting every doe we see. With coyotes taking more than their share of fawns, populations can drop in a hurry”.

In portions of the state of Maine, where deer herd numbers are still struggling to survive, perhaps it is time for MDIFW to reassess all aspects of what’s going on and make some changes in preparation for when severe winters return again to destroy the deer herd. We can’t change the weather (well you and I can’t but…..) but we can take other actions. Time for MDIFW to reexamine the Any-Deer Permit system of allotment; time to kill more bears that are killing as many, if not more, deer fawns than coyotes. Once deer populations have risen to levels higher than before the back to back winters, then MDIFW can make adjustments again accordingly. After all, isn’t this what wildlife management is all about. I don’t believe you can maintain a deer herd at minimum numbers and not expect the next sever winter to raise hell.

In the meantime, enjoy the few more deer that there appears to be and do not become complacent in our efforts to hold MDIFW’s feet to the flame to maintain a proactive approach to better wildlife management.