January 27, 2023

Maine Deer Harvest Dismal – Why Are Sportsmen Happy With Management

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Over the weekend I received a Maine map that showed the deer harvest for the 2015 Maine deer hunting season. As I write this morning, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has not posted the harvest data on their website for public viewing.

The deer harvest was a dismal 20,348. The chart below will give you comparisons.


Chart contains the latest deer kill number for 2015 as published by Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.  The 200 pound bucks numbers were compiled from data published by The Maine Sportsman Magazine.

Also today, I posted information from the MDIFW announcing dates, times and places where meetings will be held in which citizens can attend and voice their thoughts and opinions about Maine’s wildlife. Perhaps with a reminder to sportsmen that the deer herd simply is not getting any better, contrary to what we have been told, it will stimulate some effort to attend these meetings. It appears the hoped-for global warming isn’t getting the job done.

Maybe it was the back-to-back “severe” winters in 2007/2008 that cut the deer herd down substantially…or maybe not. If it was, why hasn’t the herd recovered? Surely winters haven’t been too severe. Maybe the deer managers haven’t figured out yet that global warming alone can’t recover and sustain a healthy deer herd. Maybe there are other factors. Maybe northern Maine has become a Predator Pit. Maybe MDIFW is too busy counting bats, butterflies and piping plovers.

What has puzzled me since studying the recent Big Game Survey, is that hunters, generally speaking, are very much satisfied with how MDIFW manages the deer herd. The survey tells us that deer hunters primarily hunt for meat and that the highest percentage of hunters were “very satisfied” with their deer hunting experiences in the past 5 years. That percentage of “very satisfied” deer hunters is highest in the southern regions of the state at 70% (where the deer population is highest). Satisfaction is lowest in the north with 49% of hunters still claiming satisfaction with their experience.

When I see results like this is when I question the viability of the survey. I wrote recently to explain about being aware of surveys and the Delphi Technique used to derive sought-after results. Is this what’s going on?

Further examination of the survey also reveals that 70% of those hunters not happy with their deer hunting experiences, were such due to lack of deer.

So, you figure it out. Most deer hunters want meat. Most deer hunters are “very satisfied” with their hunting experiences, and those that aren’t say it’s because there are too few deer. If this is true, expect nothing in deer management to change, especially if a majority of deer hunters aren’t interested in greater opportunity to harvest a deer.

Consider that the survey queries hunters about their experiences over the past 5 years. When we examine the chart above, we see that over the past five years, deer harvest has been terrible compared to previous years. Is this a case of sportsmen becoming accustomed to spending time in the woods merely for the fun of it and they have learned to be excited at the mere event of seeing a deer, or not seeing a deer? Perhaps.

During this past deer season, all I heard from sportsmen was that there were tons of deer and that they were big. The harvest data doesn’t reveal that. Is this conditioning? Comparing those harvests between 2009 and 2012, this year’s harvest is no better. We are becoming accustomed to deer harvests below 20,000, where once they approached 40,000. Isn’t it time for some better management? Waiting on a warming climate to grow more deer isn’t going to work evidently. Are we taking too many deer? Are we taking too many does? Doe deer haven’t been taken in northern Maine for several years, and what has that done to the deer herd?

And why are sportsmen satisfied with their hunting experience? Evidently their most important reason to hunt deer – for the meat – is a pipe dream. What have deer hunters become?

Changes in how deer are managed are needed. Sportsmen need to open their eyes to reality and start complaining. We pay a lot of money for game management and a chance to harvest deer. We should begin acting like it.

Demand changes!