December 6, 2022

Stepping All Over Those Deer From Last Year’s “Mild” Winter

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I’ll concede that there are places where the deer numbers in Maine are good…perhaps even too good. I’ll also admit, and rightfully so, that game managers (I use that term extremely lightly) can only “manage” by Wildlife Management Districts – those areas created by certain boundaries that help to shrink the size of management areas, we are told, to better be able to manage game within each zone. Those districts can only be made so small and the result is many places that go overlooked due to general deer patterns.

Having made an attempt to not piss off the entire staff at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) – like they all don’t hate me already – I can, with assurance, tell you that in the 1,000 or so acres I have hunted for the last 40-plus years, hunting remains abysmal.

I hunted – stalking, still-hunting and on stand – on average, about 8 hours each day for 6 consecutive days and managed to spot a rabbit. It was an event! I had moved up from the low lands in search of one of the big boys laying in the sunshine, at, or near the top, of the mountain. I was near the top, working my way through the beech and oak leaves, moving around big rocks, ledges and overhangs. When out from under a rock scampered a monster of a rabbit. My heart rate immediately soared, pulse pounding so hard I could barely hear the crashing as the trophy rabbit escaped in majestic leaps and bounds.

I didn’t have an “Any-Deer Permit” so I quickly scanned for antlers. That’s when it dawned on me this was a rabbit and not one of the thousands of deer we were told by the managing wizards of Augusta existed because of one mild winter last year.

Relieved I hadn’t overreacted and illegally shot a doe (rabbit), I watched the furry creature, whose coat was half white and half grey (grey?). But he was a monster. Perhaps the biggest buck I have ever seen running wild (?) in the Maine woods. It was heavy too, as could be determined by listening to the thundering foot beats. In my years of rabbit hunting experience, I’m thinking that buck would have woods-dressed at 4.9 pounds. Dang!

After letting my heart rate quell, and the sweat to wick from my now overheated body, a thought entered my head that made me laugh out loud. For whatever the reasons, it struck me that we were told through the media and MDIFW, that there was a pretty good chance that the deer harvest for 2016 would surpass the harvest of 2015. Readers should bear in mind that the harvest over the past 20 years has been so historically poor, there is an urgent need to detract from the failures of managing (it is the fault of global warming you know…or should know by now.) and think about how harvest increases are happening and how wonderfully Kumbayaish that sounds. (Altogether now: Kumbaya my deer, Kumbaya. Kumbaya, kumbaya – Get it? Deer/Dear? Didn’t think so.) Quickly, in my mind, I did some rough calculating. MDIFW made nearly 17,000, yes, that’s seventeen THOUSAND (the harvest, on a good year might exceed 18,000), ADDITIONAL Any-Deer Permits, available to hunters over last season. One would, on one hand hope the harvest rises from 2015, but on the other hand, I hope it doesn’t, even in those places claimed to be at or near objective.

Evidently the best deer management tools available to managers at MDIFW are mild winters and the hopes for more Global Warming…well, that is, until such time that Global Warming doesn’t fit into the narrative of the “Plan” for managing Maine’s deer…or moose, or any other animal.

I leave the annual week at Hunting Camp once again wondering why I spend the $115.00 (license fee – it’s insane to think that repeating the same process and hoping for a different result will somehow be different next year.). But this year was a bit different. I saw a very big buck (rabbit) and by god, I assure you, it was very healthy. The rabbit gawkers should be happy there are animals like this to see every so often, (good chance for some young entrepreneur to start up a rabbit watching business) except I’m not sure how many will make the trek up the side of the mountain to see them.