January 17, 2018

Deer Poaching is a Problem – So Is Misleading Information

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A well-respected Maine outdoor writer, whose column I read just about every week, published a column this week about poaching. Before I write any further I want to clarify that I do not condone poaching or unethical hunting – unethical meaning not following the laws governing the sport.

However, there are a couple issues I have with the writer’s information, not that these are big deals and I certainly do not want to distract from the important point of the cost of poaching and all the implications.

The article states that Maine’s deer population is estimated at 300,000, “give or take.” Is that pre or post-harvest? Maine hasn’t had a deer population near 300,000 for many, many years. Perhaps the real estimate is closer to 200,000 than 300,000 and that’s a problem.

As the author explains how “poaching” destroys deer numbers and robs legal hunters of prized opportunities to hunt, the line gets a bit muddled between the number of deer killed due to the poaching where people kill deer anytime and any place and do not legally tag that deer and the unlawful and unethical practices used and the deer are actually tagged.

You can’t count these numbers twice if you’re trying to calculate how many deer are killed by “poaching.” Does one wonder how many tagged deer were taken by strictly abiding by the rules and regulations that govern the sport and which ones were taken by “cheating?” We’ll never know. One also must wonder just how many deer are taken in a distinct criminal fashion in which the perpetrators have no regard for the law and thus never tag or report their kills?

As far as counting deer and calculating success rates, tagged deer by “cheating” cannot also be counted as poached deer.

Which brings us to the last thing I want to mention. The writer states, “Average success rates for Maine deer hunters run about 10 percent – abysmal when compared to the national level. Somehow we’ve gotten used to it. But consider that number could nearly double in the absence of poaching.”

I’m a bit puzzled by this statement but it sounds good. In an ideal situation where ALL poaching, even those sneaky things hunters do to increase their success rates, was ended, what would the harvest and success rate look like? If the success rate doubled, would the harvest double? If half the licensed hunters didn’t cheat anymore, would their success rate be cut in half while the honest hunters would double?

I don’t know. What I do know is that as the deer herd dwindles, for whatever the reasons, I am tired of spending the time trudging through the woods staring down a 10% chance of taking a deer. I’m hungry.

Because you can’t measure “poaching” to any degree, I wouldn’t suppose you could measure changes in the success rate to any degree. The author writes that a 10% deer harvest success rate is “abysmal when compared to the national level.” Why is it abysmal in comparison? Is it because there is that much more “poaching” going on or is it because a deer herd numbering around 200,000, the most of which are concentrated in high human population areas where hunting is heavily restricted, and 200,000 licensed hunters means the hunting sucks? Under these conditions, one might have to say that if the licensed and legitimate hunter didn’t “cheat” now and again, that 10% success rate might drop to 5%.

But doesn’t the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) kind of have a “fudge factor” for this sort of thing? Perhaps they don’t know precisely how many licensed hunters are doing things to press the envelope of rules and regulations but the harvest is the harvest and that is the number they use in their calculations, knowing full well there is little they can do to stop this kind of “poaching.”

Total deer mortality and fawn recruitment are the major factors in determining deer populations. When total mortality gets too high and/or recruitment too low, deer hunting is in serious trouble. To stop poaching would help but I have serious reservations that my success rate would double.

Having talked about all of this, I wonder how much any of us would be even taking the time to write about such problems if there were simply ample deer (like there used to be) to go around. I also wonder if “poaching” goes up proportionately as the deer herd perpetually shrinks?