March 28, 2023

Is MDIFW Promoting a Rebuilt Deer Herd?

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deerFound at the Portland Press Herald website is an article discussing the upcoming hunting seasons in Maine. About halfway down the page was this gem:

Probably the best news is the deer herd, which is now back to levels not seen since before the severe winters of 2007-08 and 2008-09.

“After three fairly mild winters, the deer population has rebounded, and that is reflected in last year’s buck kill and the increase in any-deer permits,” said Kyle Ravana, Maine’s deer biologist.

The article further goes on to brag about how buck harvests are up 23%, and it “exceeded the 10-year average.” I suppose I should insert a little “wink-wink” emoticon right here. Further prediction is that this year’s deer harvest should be around 25,000 or 26,000, which would be “nearly a 20 percent increase from the previous year.”

Please pardon me while I don’t do cartwheels over this so-called “best news.” If the deer herd is bouncing back in some places I can’t say that it has much to do with the efforts of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW). While efforts to kill coyotes is always good news, the targeting efforts, killing a few hundred coyotes over the past two winters, is NOT responsible for any resurgence in the deer herd in my opinion. And while I’m discussing efforts to, in fact, do something about a deer herd that is sure to be destroyed when Maine has another round of severe winters, absolutely nothing substantial has been done to address the overblown population of black bears that are probably killing more deer fawns than coyotes are. In addition, Maine is staring down the barrel of another citizen’s initiative by environmentalists aimed at ending bear hunting and trapping. And then what?

However, I and we could sit here for hours on end and argue about what has and hasn’t caused the deer herd to go up and down and all around. The point of all this is a warning to sportsmen not to be snookered by the MDIFW sales pitch. The truth is nothing has been done that would prevent another tragedy to the deer herd WHEN the next round of bad winters falls upon Maine.

Somehow MDIFW thinks we should be excited over a deer harvest of 25,000-26,000 deer. Compared to the bottom of the barrel, yeah, I guess it would look better. And I don’t blame MDIFW for doing what they can to rally the troops. They do have to sell licenses but isn’t it a better sell when there’s actually deer to hunt and one can brag about the fantastic deer management the department has done instead of thanking global warming for helping to save their jobs?

And the future for deer hunting isn’t all that great when you consider what might happen should hunting and trapping of bears be essentially destroyed. Any hopes of MDIFW channeling resources to manage a deer herd will be chewed up trying to find ways to keep bears from killing people and livestock.

But enough of bragging to the press about how “kumbaya” things are with Maine’s “rebounded” deer herd. It got me to thinking though and so I scratched around to find some data of interest that is often overlooked……or actually, probably never seen. I wanted readers to be able to take a look at deer harvest numbers from the early 1900s up until the present. In addition, I thought it would be interesting to examine the number of hunting licenses sold and sort of compare that with the harvest data to see about hunter success rates….sort of.

Before I present this data and add commentary to it, let me explain a few things that makes the data a bit faulty, or at least not something that you can take to the bank as exact data. Let me explain. The deer harvest numbers are accurate. Those numbers come directly from MDIFW information, including website and printed publications.

The number of licensed hunters includes all license sales. This number in no way represents an accurate number of licensed hunters who hunted deer. It also includes non-resident license sales of the same kind. One other note, the license data up until and including 2003 came from MDIFW publications. 2004 – 2012 was obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Therefore the success rate percentage should only be used as an indicator to inspire thought. I have no way of knowing if variables within the license data is somewhat stable or not. What I was hoping for was an indication as to whether success rate for bagging a deer went up or down or whether there were any indications as to why. It is probably more speculative on my part. As I said, the harvest numbers are accurate.

When I began this little project, I was wondering if I could show that getting excited over a deer harvest of 26,000 was really something MDIFW should be bragging about when compared to history. Let’s see what I found.

I’ve provided a PDF for readers to download, especially if they would like a copy of the harvest numbers to refer back to. Below is a photo copy of the PDF for quicker reference to this story. You may need to click on it to enlarge it.

From the information that I have at my disposal, it shows that the peak deer harvest came in 1959. That harvest was 41,735 deer. In addition, that same year 175,530 total licenses were sold. That compares with 251,988 total licenses sold last year, 2012. If you were to calculate a success rate from harvest compared to licenses sold, it equals 23.8%.

For comparison, the low harvest occurred in 2009. A harvest of 18,092 was registered, with total license sales at 276,493. The calculated success rate at 6.5%.

To be forthcoming, if you examine the data in the table below, you will see harvest and license tallies prior to 1940 that are lower than the 2009 figures. I question those numbers and chose not to use them. You can if you would like.

Let’s look a bit closer. That peak harvest that happened in 1959 comes at what appears to be a pretty healthy hunting period for Maine residents. Beginning in 1945 through 1965, this 21-year period saw an average annual deer harvest of 36,112 and an average success rate of, 22.4%. During that same time, an average of 162,794 licenses were sold.

If we compare these numbers with the last 10 years, we will see that the average deer harvest from 2003 – 2012 was 24,766. Success rate averaged 9.7%, while the average number of licenses sold stood at 259,564.

MDIFW chooses to see if they can get a thrill to run up a quarter of a million licensed hunters’ legs by telling them they can expect to harvest 26,000 deer. And yet we see that over the past 10 seasons, nearly 100,000 more hunters are taking 69% fewer deer than they did a mere 40 years ago. What’s being done about that?

Is that the trick? We allow several years in a row with deer harvest numbers running in the high teens to low twenties and then convince hunters 26,000 is a good number and state the deer herd has rebounded? Come on man!

What amazes me is the fact that there are still at least 250,000 people willing to buy a Maine hunting license. It pains me every year to come back to Maine and spend $125.00 (approx) for a non resident license when I’m looking at a success rate that might be as low as 6% or 7%. Ouch! I guess I just consider it a donation and hope that someday that money will go towards deer management instead of saving piping plovers and protecting the predators that are the biggest contributors toward the destruction of this deer herd.

Some would argue that but when you factor in the harsh winters, which will come roaring back, deer yards become blood baths due to coyote predation. In the spring, the bears and coyotes clean up the fawns, reducing recruitment to near non existent. When you combine these truths with all the other excuses, there’s a dim future.

So which of these can we do something about?