March 21, 2023

Good Deer Hunting in the City

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I read with interest an article in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald about how the most southern county in Maine, York County, has been quite consistent over the years with its deer harvest – even despite the death and destruction after the two famed, back-to-back “severe” winters of 2008 and 2009.

In this article and others, is often repeated the reasons why there are more deer in Southern and Central Maine than in other places. For one, the climate is consistently a bit milder and some people claim that there is less hunting going on in some of these regions because more land is posted to hunting and trespass.

Always missing in these articles is any mention of why, other than climate and land postings, deer are more prevalent here than there. When we examine the causes of deer mortality, we learn that climate/weather/severe winters, habitat (feed and cover), human-caused mortality (hunting and auto accidents, etc.), disease, and predation are the main causes. So, logically speaking one should be able to conclude that York County must have less of some or all of these causes of deer death, if it is maintaining a constant deer population resulting in a consistent harvest.

I touched briefly on climate. Let’s look a bit at human population. One might assume that the higher and more dense the human population, the higher rate of auto collision deaths of deer. York County is the second most populated county in Maine and third highest in people per square mile. But it doesn’t appear auto collisions have much factor in deer mortality, in relationship to harvest data.

Last year’s hunt saw a harvest of 175 deer; this from a county with nearly 200,000 people or, 1,271 square miles of area = 155 people per square mile. We don’t know the deer population over the past 5 or so years but claims are the harvest has remained consistent or risen. Can we conclude deer population has risen? No, because we have to know number of licensed hunters over the years and participation rates. Probably they are at least somewhat consistent over the years.

Let’s combine habitat and predation together. Deer require the basics of food supply and protective cover – from predation and harsh winter weather, as well as normal activity. In York County, the winters are less severe and therefore the deer don’t require dense, high-canopied deer wintering areas. Deer also are not stupid and they will seek out the best places to live as it may pertain to food supply, protection from the elements and protection from predation.

It is no secret that wild animals, like deer, moose, elk, have migrated into the backyards of people living in higher human populated areas for a few reasons: better and more available food, protection from elements and to escape the constant threat of predation in all seasons, not just winter.

This is not a new phenomenon, although there might be more of it going on due to the over protection of large predators, loss of habitat, etc.

I’ve even provided photographs on this website of adult female moose, with their new-born calves taking up refuge in downtown areas, away from large predators, like wolves, coyotes, bears and mountain lions. The same can be said for elk.

If one were to read the book, “Early Maine Wildlife” by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving, you would soon discover that in journals and diaries, as well as newspapers, dating back as early as the 1600s, deer migrated from the northern climes of the state of Maine, many of them taking up residence on the many islands off the coast of Maine. This migration, even back then, was attributed to the harassment of wolves and other large predators, in combination with harsh winters and an eroding of habitat.

So, when people read articles like the one linked to above, it would be helpful to all concerned if a bit more explanation went into the complexities of understanding deer populations and causes of mortality, which greatly affects the habits of deer.