February 7, 2023

Maine Hunting Camp: Why Bother?

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As each year passes, I continue to ask myself, why bother? Why bother to go? There are very few deer, as has been the case for going on two decades now and nothing is changing in the woods…nothing.

I just completed my 40th year at a Maine hunting camp – the same family hunting camp I have written about for many years. I saw nothing – Okay, I saw three partridge and a woodpecker on my camp bird feeder.

This morning I was reading The Gun Nut at Field and Stream. He had been in Wyoming on a whitetail deer hunt where he took a 12-point, 200-pound buck. He writes, “At the moment I pulled the trigger, there were six other bucks in the field.”

Then he wrote, “Then I went to Maine, and spent 5 ½ days in an elevated stand waiting for a whitetail. I was in the stand from 5:45 until 4:30, and the only thing I saw the whole time was a coyote, whose furtive existence I terminated. Our party was 15 people more or less, ten of whom are geezers like myself and have 50 years or so of whitetail battles in their past, so when they don’t see deer, it means there are no deer.”

For 40 years I’ve hunted the same lands and have seen it all. Excuses be damned…there just aren’t any deer and I hold out little hope that by doing nothing except wishing and hoping, anything is going to change.

The poor excuses are old to me and worthless. Putting it all together, we see that it appears deer managers don’t know what’s really going on and with each passing year, I am left wondering if they really care. Maybe they care about pensions and benefits, but the excuse making is so poor, some of us have discovered that the managers tell it both ways. Here’s a bold and ridiculous example of what I mean.

The moose population is shrinking. Even though the moose managers keep echoing the fact that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is in the middle of a multi-year moose study, we know they recognize a dwindling moose herd because they keep cutting back the number of moose permits to be issued during the lottery.

The convenient cover for poor management is winter ticks, which they hide behind by saying the increase in winter ticks is caused by (and we don’t even have to wait for it anymore) climate change. To be specific, the climate change in question happens to be warming. Wildlife managers, evidently without so much as a courtesy glance at any existing science on Demacentor albipictus (winter tick), it’s easier to copy and paste, and/or repeat, what the last guy said.

So, now, we are all supposed to fall to our knees and self-flagellate as a show of mourning for the moose and eagerly swallow the explanation of what is happening to the moose. I believe! I believe! Are you going to pass the offering plate?

Even if we pretend that a warming climate is to blame for the winter tick-caused mortality of moose, what about the whitetail deer?

Of course, all of us must realize that habitat is always a safe bet when a deer or moose manager needs to cover their assets, even though no explanation can be given as to why, if loss of habitat accounts so dearly to deer loss, there’s acres and acres of prime deer habitat where there are no deer. One would think that as habitat supposedly disappears, more and more deer would be crowded into smaller and smaller places. Such is not the case. The woods are empty…PERIOD.

If you haven’t figured out yet where I’m going here, it’s time I told you. Deer managers tell us that there are no deer because of back to back severe winters. That was like 7 or 8 years ago. Without even discussing what constitute a “severe winter,” I don’t even need a brain to figure out that if severe winters are killing off all the deer, then how can, at the same time, on the same landscape, from the same officials, they tell us warmer than normal winters are what’s causing winter ticks that kill moose? Where did you say that bridge was you wanted to sell me?

I laugh until I nearly fall out of my chair, when I hear of some calling for the State of Maine to spend gobs of money they don’t have, in order to market Maine as a destination hunting mecca. This has to be someone’s idea of a bad joke. Because I grew up in Maine and lived there for 47 years, still have a camp there and have gone to the same deer hunting camp for 40 years, I go back each Fall. Each year it’s harder and harder to justify spending the $116.00 for a piece of paper that gives me the privilege of walking in the woods. Without the connections, I would not go. I would not spend $50.00 or $20.00 to travel the 1700 miles to deer hunt in Maine.

Deer hunting in Maine is the biggest draw the state has for hunters. When they lose that, a lot of people and animals will suffer. If MDIFW actually cares about saving the species and the sport, which equals a sizable income to them and the rest of the state, something must change. MDIFW cannot continue to be dictated to by the Maine Guides. Bear play a prominent roll in killing deer. There are too many bears and yet, because the guides don’t want anybody messing with their bear guiding business during the early Fall hunt, managers refuse to implement a spring bear hunt or even to double-up on bag limits.

When you combine this kind of approach to wildlife management with fear of lawsuits from animal rights perverts, there is little hope of anything changing. We see how MDIFW caves in to the public demands to have more moose to view from automobiles. When the day arrived that game managers put more emphasis on social demands than scientific fact, failure was eminent. We are now reaping that harvest.

Maine deer hunting? Why bother?