September 20, 2018

Maine’s Disturbing Deer Harvest Trends

Although still not published on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) website, some news outlets are reporting that Maine hunters surprisingly harvested a total of 27,233 deer in 2017, an increase over the previous season of about 15% but far from the near 37,000 in 2000.

The increase is being given to a growing deer herd…well, at least in southern and central Maine, while the rest of the state evidently is just devastated by global warming (severe winters). MDIFW intends to issue more “Any-Deer Permits” hoping that even though last year’s ADPs never got filled in the majority of Wildlife Management Districts. Without more hunters, I’m not sure how more ADPs will cause more deer to be killed. But we’ll see.

Below is a completed graphic by my graphs guru which includes the 27,233 harvest figure. But I am more and more clearly beginning to see a disturbing pattern that needs some answers.

From the graph we see that while the number of deer harvested in 2017 increased 3,721, the number of 200 lb. bucks harvested actually dropped by one, instead of a logical near 15% increase if all things were remaining relative. The graph also shows that the percentage of big bucks harvested in relation to the overall kill continues to shrink and that we are approaching half the number of big bucks that were taken in the year 2,000.

There could be several contributing factors to this event but the trend appears to be putting Maine in the same league with a lot of other small deer states further reducing the appeal to hunt deer and/or come to Maine and hunt big bucks.

I’ll take a closer look at this if we EVER get to see the harvest reports for 2017.

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Maine Big Bucks and Estimated 2017 Deer Harvest

As has been the case over the past several years, we wait until nobody cares anymore about the last hunting season’s deer harvest data. In the meantime, my team waits for the Big Bucks Report that is put out by the Maine Sportsman magazine, then goes to work counting and plotting graphs. From the number of registered “big bucks,” an estimate is generated as to what the final count will be for that year’s deer harvest. While not accurate, the estimations haven’t been very far off, proof of our excellent work.

Below are two charts. The first, which probably looks familiar to those regular readers here, is the ongoing chart that shows the deer harvest year, the total harvest and an array of numbers, percentages, and departures from a base year. As is always done when I publish this chart, the last, or in this case 2017 “Deer Kill” is an estimation based on previous years’ calculations. When the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) decides to release the deer harvest data (typically we will not see this until early summer), I will update this chart with the official “Deer Kill” and republish that for readers.

The second chart/graph shows the number of registered Big Bucks with the Maine Sportsman magazine since the year 2000. To be honest, I’m not sure what, if any, real conclusions can be made from this information because there are certain variables that change that may affect the results. For example, what determines how many people decide to register their “Big Bucks” with the Maine Sportsman? I doubt those numbers vary a lot from year to year, but over several years as the demographics of the hunting community changes from year to year, so too it may change the results of the number of big bucks registered.

I was a bit dismayed after having read an editorial in the Maine Sportsman where the editors presented a bright and optimistic overview of Maine’s deer population, the percentage of big bucks, and the future outlook for deer hunting and deer management. The magazine provided their own creative graph of big bucks, but only for the past six years – certainly not long enough where any honest estimations, conclusions, or trends could be generated.

As you will see, our charts go back to the year 2000. Eighteen years of Maine Sportsman Magazine’s registered Big Bucks are plotted. When comparing eighteen years against 6 years, a deer hunter might not be so thrilled about the trend that appears before them.

Reminding readers that this information and chart is not necessarily a scientific one, I have generally concluded that the number of big bucks basically follows the trend in the overall deer population. If this is accurate, this could be taken as a compliment to the MDIFW having been able to accomplish a healthy maintenance of buck to doe ratios and age structure. This is a good thing.

However, to state that “more hunters took trophy deer each successive year since 2014” may be accurate but perhaps a bit misleading.

An examination of the eighteen-year graph shows that the Maine deer population shrank and remains that way. The deer harvest has plummeted from a high of 38,153 in 2002, to a low of 18,045 in 2009. Since 2009, the deer harvest has averaged around 21,000 – nothing to get too excited about.

Reports have been thrown around about mild winters and more deer, but to those who get around, it is clear that such conditions only exist in certain areas.

While only looking at the last two years, the number of reported Big Bucks is nearly identical, hinting that the deer population throughout the entire state has remained static.

I do not look for any changes in deer management. All that might change as far as deer herd and harvest will be the result of variables in which we have no control over. As long as there remains too many moose, too many black bears, too many coyote/wolf hybrids, too many bobcats, and too many Canada lynx, the struggle to grow a deer herd will persist. Maine hunters should get used to how things are now, while expecting up and down swings of hunting success.

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Playing With Maine’s Big Bucks…Numbers That Is

I recently wrote an article for a local newspaper in Maine, The Bethel Citizen, about how “Statistics Prove that Statistics Can Prove Anything.” That article didn’t have room for all, or even any, of the graphs and charts I’ve been collecting about Maine’s “Big Bucks,” i.e. those bucks weighing in excess of 200 lbs and those registered with the magazine Maine Sportsman.

If you examine the chart below, you will see in the left column the years 1999 through 2016. Please note that the total deer kill for 2016 is an estimate because the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has not released data as of this writing.

For Big Buck comparisons, focus your attention on the column that shows the % of Big Bucks as to the total deer harvest. This chart might tell us that not only has the number of Big Bucks killed over the past 16 or so years decreased but something worth paying attention to is that the % of Big Bucks to the total harvest has not remained steady. Logic should force us to conclude that if all things are relative and in line with management goals for deer, regardless of the number of deer harvested, the % of Big Bucks should remain virtually the same. It doesn’t.

This next graph, which I found on the Face Book page for Maine Deer Hunters, posted by Troy Frye, gives us a great glimpse at the number of bucks harvested versus the number of “Antlerless” deer for each season, 2000 – 2015. I see an interesting graphic. After the severe winters of 2007/2008, MDIFW cut “Any-Deer Permits” allocation drastically. By doing such, hunters were not able to take the first deer they saw, providing they had a permit that allows harvest of either sex. In other words, an “Any-Deer Permit” does not limit the bearer to shooting only an “antlerless” deer. While during those years, the total deer harvest did drop, the buck harvest didn’t drop by the same percentage as the total harvest.

The percentage of bucks to “antlerless” harvest was considerably higher from the years 2008 through 2015. How does this affect the percentage of Big Buck harvest in comparison with total deer harvest, as shown in the chart above?

That may be a difficult task to answer, however we can see from the above chart that the number of Big Bucks and the percentage of total harvest dropped and essentially has remained low since at least 2008 – none of these numbers remaining consistent.

To provide us with an easier comparison, my techno guru put this graph together for me. I must give credit where credit is due. The basic graph that shows the total number of Big Bucks harvested, from 2000 – 2016 was also posted on the Maine Deer Hunter Face Book page. My techno guru overlaid (in red) the percentage of Big Bucks as compared to total deer harvest. Note: There are some slight differences in numbers used from one source to another. Those differences should not have any measurable influences in determining, or attempting to determine, trends.

The last two charts attempt to make comparisons of the average weights of the top ten heaviest harvested Big Bucks for the years 2006 – 2016. Does anything here jump out at you?

Deer management is a very complex science. While it might be interesting to play around with statistics, with what is presented essentially anyone could make an argument for or against most anything related to deer management. While I, or anyone else, might recognize a possible trend, it is most difficult to make any real firm statements without having at one’s disposal all the data for the years in question due to the many influences that can alter any data from one year to the next.

Having said all that, here’s something that I think should provide information the Maine Legislature, or the MDIFW Committee, or anyone else should consider BEFORE proposing another Sunday Hunting Bill.

The chart, found on Maine Deer Hunter Facebook page, posted by Troy Frye, shows the 2016 Big Buck Harvest and what percentage of that harvest occurred on what day of the week. For example, 31% of the total Big Buck harvest took place on Saturday. That’s because more hunters have that day of the week off from work and take it to hunt.

When you consider that Maine can only sustain a deer herd with a limited total deer harvest, adding Sundays to the hunting season would not necessarily add 3 or 4 weekend days a season to hunt. In short, to maintain a desired and limited deer harvest, the total season would need to be shortened to offset the increased hunter effort.

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A Monster of a Buck

I have not details yet on this monster white-tail buck. It supposedly was shot in Maine. The quality of the photo, I realize, is not good and sometimes angles and shadows make objects appear bigger or smaller than they really are. However, this particular photo sure make this animal look to be a monster in both body weight and antler size. I will post more information if I can get it.

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267-Pound Allagash Buck

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allagashbuck

Kip Paules of Bowdoinham, Maine, with the 267-pound buck he shot while hunting in the Allagash on Nov. 19. (Thom Thomas photo)

allagashfalls

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What Are You Talking About?

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Maine’s Percentage of “Big Bucks” Remains Below Average

The Maine Sportsman Magazine has released their list of registered “Big Bucks” from this past year’s harvest. My numbers guy, who compiles and keeps the tables of deer harvests and big bucks, has sent me his most, up-to-date table of big bucks taken in Maine.

As you will see on the graph, the total deer harvest for 2015 is highlighted in red and is estimated. It takes the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife an eternity to release harvest data and hunters want information much sooner than MDIFW is willing to release it. When the official harvest numbers are released, we will update this table and correct the percentages where needed. At that time, I will post a final tally.

2015BigBucks

BigBucks

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Percentage of Maine’s “Big Bucks” Continues to Decline

Below is s copy of a chart that is created each year by a good friend of mine. Since 1999 it shows the annual deer harvest, as provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The chart makes several comparisons, as you can see.

Once the deer harvest numbers are official, this chart compares the current harvest numbers with past years’ as a percentage of the deer harvest in 1999. The number of “Big Bucks” harvested and reported (200 lb. minimum), as obtained from the Maine Sportsman Magazine, is shown. From there, several comparisons by percentage are shown. These comparisons are based on the 2000 numbers as they are the highest reported during this 15-years span.

As you should be able to tell, the percentage of Big Bucks harvested, compared to the total deer harvest, since 2000, has been mostly on a steady decline. Obviously with a reduced harvest one would expect the total number of Big Bucks to also be reduced. But what is troubling is that the decline of Big Bucks is not proportional to the overall harvest.

But what does that tell us? The obvious would be to state that there appears to be an age structure shift in Maine’s deer herd. And what causes a change in age could be one of several things and/or a combination of them. Without all the data, my ideas would be nothing but guesses. It could be nothing more than a corrective shift downward in age to bring the herd in line with management goals, or it could be at the other end where there are just too many Big Bucks that have been and repeatedly get taken each year…but I doubt that. It is possible that in addition to a reduced overall deer population in Maine, there’s also been a loss in natural foods and nutrients that cause deer to grow large in body mass. Or, the Big Bucks are being harassed by predators prohibiting normal weight gain.

But here’s a question and something to think about. One might wonder if it is a natural phenomenon that during a period when a deer herd is shrinking, the percentage of Big Bucks would not necessarily mirror that of the overall herd? If that were true, then can we surmise that as the herd grows in numbers, the percentage of Big Bucks increases as well? My pea brain logic would tell me the exact opposite. But hell, what do I know?

BigBucks2014

Note: On the above chart please notice that the deer harvest for 2014 is an estimate. When the official number is made available, hopefully this year, I’ll post the correction.

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Monster Whitetail Taken in Prentiss, Maine

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A Glimpse At Maine’s Big Buck Harvest

The Maine Sportsman has published the list of the biggest bucks taken during the 2013 deer hunting season. My in house statistician has done a preliminary estimation that shows how this year’s big buck harvest will stack up against previous years.

Once the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife decides to release it’s data on the deer harvest (anyone’s guess), the below chart will be updated to better reflect the actual figures. For 2013 the number of 200-pound plus deer is accurate according to the Maine Sportsman. The deer harvest figure of 22,000 is a projection based on information available.

MaineBigBucks

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