May 25, 2015

Maine Deer Harvest Slightly Above Abysmal

Press Release from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife:

Deer harvest second highest in the past six years

AUGUSTA, Maine – Deer hunters in Maine harvested 22,490 deer in 2014, the second-highest total in the past six years.

“Hunters had an unusual year with heavy snow hitting much of the state on opening weekend, and then again during Thanksgiving,” said Kyle Ravana, IFW’s deer biologist. “Those are always two of the busiest weekends of the year for hunters, and it gave many hunters the chance to track and harvest a deer.”

Maine’s November firearms season for deer attracts the most hunters and accounts for most of the state’s deer harvest (18,510). Maine’s deer season starts in early-September with expanded archery, and ends with the muzzleloader season in mid-December, providing hunters with over 80 days in which to pursue deer. The deer hunting season allows for the department to manage the deer herd and provide wildlife watching and hunting opportunity in much of the state while decreasing the deer population in other areas in order to reduce deer/car collisions and property damage, and prevalence of lyme disease.

While the 2014 buck harvest was similar to 2013 (15,986 to 16,736, a difference of 4%), a decrease in the number of harvested does was expected due to a previous winter (2013-14) that was above average in its severity which resulted in a corresponding reduction in any deer permits.

The department decreased the number of any deer permits last season by 20% in order to compensate for deer that may have succumbed to the harsh winter conditions. As a result, fewer adult does were harvested. In 2014, 4,401 adult does were harvested, which was approximately 17% below the 2013 harvest of 5,308 adult does. The Any-Deer Permit system plays a vital role in the management of Maine’s deer since it was first implemented in 1986. By controlling the harvest of female deer in the 29 regional wildlife management districts throughout the state, biologists can better manage population trends.

For the 2015 deer season, the department is again suggesting a decrease in the number of any deer permits due to another harsh winter.

For 2015, the department is recommending a total of 28,770 any deer permits. This is a decrease of 23% (8,415 permits) from 2014. Most of these any deer permits will be issued in southern, central and midcoast Maine, where the deer population is growing, remains highly productive, and usually experiences milder winter weather. There also will be some permits issued in eastern Aroosotook, as well as southern Piscataquis and southern Penobscot counties. In most of northern and downeast Maine, there will be no any deer permits issued and hunters will be allowed to take only bucks.

“By decreasing the number of any deer permits available, we can offset some of the impact of the now two consecutive harsh winters,” said Ravana.

The any deer permit recommendation is still in the comment period until June 6. Once the comment period closes, the Commissioner’s Advisory Council will then vote whether to accept the any permit recommendation.

The deer kill over the past five years includes: 2014 –22,490; 2013 – 24,795; 2012 – 21,553; 2011 – 18,839; 2010 – 20,063; 2009 – 18,092; 2008 – 21,062.


Quality Deer Management Association Ranks Pennsylvania Deer Harvest High

In the meantime, the Quality Deer Management Association recently released its 2015 Whitetail Report, which is based on 2013-14 season numbers.

There are 37 states that provide data to QDMA for its annual report.

Basically, it’s every state but those in the West.

For Pennsylvania, the non-profit organization uses data submitted by the PA Game Commission.<<<Read More>>>

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?


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.

But, What About Predators?

Here we go! Whining and complaining about how whitetail deer harvests in many “deer hunting” states continues to drop. Complain and complain, have meetings and do some more complaining and yet? Not one stinking word spoken about predators. Not one.

If I keep saying the same thing over and over and over, maybe the problem will magically correct itself.

“The causes offered up by officials are many and varied including recent severe winters, disease, tough hunting conditions, intentional herd reduction, and fewer doe tags. Seldom do you hear anything about habitat and hunter-access loss, declining hunter interest, and mismanagement of the habitat and the deer herd…<<<Read More>>>

Round and round the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought it was all in fun…..POP GOES THE WEASEL.

Finally, Maine Releases 2013 Deer Harvest Data

It won’t be long now before hunters in Maine will begin getting prepared for the 2014 white-tailed deer hunting season and to help get you “pumped up” the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has released the deer harvest results for the 1947 2013 deer hunting season.

What’s the hold up on the bear harvest data?

Maine’s Number One Game Animal Getting No Attention

Below is a graphic that shows the length of time it has taken the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) to release deer harvest data to the public over the past nine years. This includes this year, of which the harvest data has not been released as of this posting. The graphic was put together by a reader.

Many states that have deer and other game animal harvests, provide the public with harvest data, even more complex and containing more and better information in a matter of hours or days from the close of each season. Maine appears to be the slowest of them all.

For some it’s just the number of deer taken that they are interested in. Maine sportsmen don’t even get that in a timely manner. Spring and summer fishing is well underway, with the least of thoughts about the last deer hunting season. Maybe that’s the reason it takes approaching 6 months to get the data. Out of sight and out of mind?

For others, myself included, I like to examine all the data. As a matter of fact, I would like all the data collected on deer and used to calculate population estimates and how many, if any, permits will be issued. For those of us interested in better understanding of what is going on with deer management, things like pre harvest and post harvest information would be helpful. In addition, fawn recruitment rates, age structure, etc.

This year, as of today, sportsmen have been waiting 152 days for deer harvest data. That’s the longest time in the past nine years. The average over the previous 8 years has been 99.75 days. That in and of itself is abysmal, but why 152 days.

In George Smith’s article today in the Bangor Daily News, he says, “The sad fact is that the agency doesn’t know how many deer died this past winter, or how many deer we have in the state. Maine’s #1 game animal isn’t getting the attention and research needed to assure good decisions on harvest, habitat, and other critical issues. The Maine Game Plan for Deer has fallen far short of its goals.”

And maybe this dragging of the feet, while butterflies are counted, is a substantiation of Smith’s frustrated concern. In a state were once simple deer tagging numbers were readily published in the newspapers only hours after a busy hunting weekend, the Maine deer hunter has to wait 152 days…..and counting. I guess this is progress? In a day and age where information is instantaneous, 152 days to wait for deer harvest data? If I did my job that lousy, I would have been fired and would be some surprised if I hadn’t been. And I guess that’s progress too!

The person who developed this graphic used the start date for counting each year as December 15th. The muzzleloader season may end a few days before that. He included weekends and holidays. He used today’s date for the 2013 calculation but the report is not done, so it will likely be greater than 152 days. He used this calculator to do the dates. The dates on the online screens vary by location. If they did not have it proudly displayed he used the document date tag on the webpage.


Maine’s 2013 Deer Harvest Comparative Figures

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, on Friday, released their deer harvest data which showed a 15% increase, which on first glance appears to be the result of an increase in “Any-Deer Permits” issued prior to the season. (the data has yet to be published on the MDIFW website.)

Below is a table prepared by my in-house statistician that shows information for 2013, some of it preliminary, and how that data compares with previous years.

After I have had a chance to thoroughly examine the harvest data, I will, more than likely, file a report on my findings.


Time to Get the Deer Data Done or Get Off the Pot

While Wisconsin, for example, has their hunting harvest data completed, in a timely fashion, and that is ancient history, they are working on assessing the severity of this season’s winter kill.

For Maine…..Silence….Crickets….Failure to even get out the deer harvest data in their usual months long delay. Time to $#!^ or get off the pot. I’m guessing they got a good handle on piping plovers though. Maine’s Plan for Deer Piping Plovers


Media Mantra Says Maine’s Deer Harvest Has Increase

deerdeepsnowMedia reports all throughout Maine’s recent whitetail deer hunting season mostly are in agreement that it appears the deer harvest took a 20% increase from last year. It will probably be 3 or 4 months before official harvest data are released; a time when most hunters have forgotten about the season and moved on to other things, i.e. ice fishing, sledding, etc. Some examples of media reports can be found here and here.

Some don’t think getting the facts in a timely manner, as other states do, matters much, but I say, especially under the current conditions in Maine concerning the deer herd, timely data is more important than ever before. It’s easy for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), along with the aid of their complicit media outlets, to hype the deer season as being one of great success. It’s the close examination of the compiled data that tells the real story.

I have no faith in the mainstream media in these affairs as their intent it to sell copy and historically, their exists little in the way of “journalism” these days. It has been co opted by copy and paste cloning of text.

If Maine’s harvest statewide should come in at around a 20% increase over 2012, that would fall in line with what the new deer biologist, Kyle Ravana predicted going into the season. That harvest number would still be 20% – 30% below historic maximum harvests. It certainly isn’t time to blow one’s horn about the successful rebuilding of a deer herd, when the majority of the success can be attributed to mild winters. What happens when another bad winter or two hits again?

However, all this talk and media hype of overall hunting success and increases in statewide deer harvest, does nothing to educate and inform the hunters of what’s going on with the deer herd town to town and Wildlife Management District (WMD) to Wildlife Management District. If planned properly, a media campaign can convince enough people the MDIFW has waved their magic wand and saved the deer herd. That’s not good enough for me and that’s why I have always been so adamant about getting the deer harvest stats out in a more timely fashion; while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind.

So, once again, Maine sportsman will, more than likely, have to wait until late March and perhaps in April before we can have access to data to examine to see where harvest increases took place and where they didn’t. In the meantime, I do hope that the majority of hunters had success and filled their freezers.

I want hunters to be successful and I want a healthy, robust deer herd. However, logic dictates that for that to happen, something must change or we are programmed to repeat the failures of the past. I’m not convinced the necessary changes have taken place to prevent the disasters of 4 and 5 years ago.

For those who may not regularly follow and read my articles, I have long promoted solutions that I feel need to be done in order to manage deer to better rebuild the herd and prepare for and prevent another disaster as the winters of 2007/2008. Here are links to some of those articles: Here, here, here.

It is readily admitted that since 2009, the winters have been relatively mild and as a result has allowed for a reduced mortality during winter months. Implementation of a deer management plan that heavily relies on global warming (more mild winters), especially at a time that science is forecasting a transition into about a 30-year period of rapid cooling, will only spell continued disaster. Something must change.

Good Deer Hunting in the City

I read with interest an article in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald about how the most southern county in Maine, York County, has been quite consistent over the years with its deer harvest – even despite the death and destruction after the two famed, back-to-back “severe” winters of 2008 and 2009.

In this article and others, is often repeated the reasons why there are more deer in Southern and Central Maine than in other places. For one, the climate is consistently a bit milder and some people claim that there is less hunting going on in some of these regions because more land is posted to hunting and trespass.

Always missing in these articles is any mention of why, other than climate and land postings, deer are more prevalent here than there. When we examine the causes of deer mortality, we learn that climate/weather/severe winters, habitat (feed and cover), human-caused mortality (hunting and auto accidents, etc.), disease, and predation are the main causes. So, logically speaking one should be able to conclude that York County must have less of some or all of these causes of deer death, if it is maintaining a constant deer population resulting in a consistent harvest.

I touched briefly on climate. Let’s look a bit at human population. One might assume that the higher and more dense the human population, the higher rate of auto collision deaths of deer. York County is the second most populated county in Maine and third highest in people per square mile. But it doesn’t appear auto collisions have much factor in deer mortality, in relationship to harvest data.

Last year’s hunt saw a harvest of 175 deer; this from a county with nearly 200,000 people or, 1,271 square miles of area = 155 people per square mile. We don’t know the deer population over the past 5 or so years but claims are the harvest has remained consistent or risen. Can we conclude deer population has risen? No, because we have to know number of licensed hunters over the years and participation rates. Probably they are at least somewhat consistent over the years.

Let’s combine habitat and predation together. Deer require the basics of food supply and protective cover – from predation and harsh winter weather, as well as normal activity. In York County, the winters are less severe and therefore the deer don’t require dense, high-canopied deer wintering areas. Deer also are not stupid and they will seek out the best places to live as it may pertain to food supply, protection from the elements and protection from predation.

It is no secret that wild animals, like deer, moose, elk, have migrated into the backyards of people living in higher human populated areas for a few reasons: better and more available food, protection from elements and to escape the constant threat of predation in all seasons, not just winter.

This is not a new phenomenon, although there might be more of it going on due to the over protection of large predators, loss of habitat, etc.

I’ve even provided photographs on this website of adult female moose, with their new-born calves taking up refuge in downtown areas, away from large predators, like wolves, coyotes, bears and mountain lions. The same can be said for elk.

If one were to read the book, “Early Maine Wildlife” by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving, you would soon discover that in journals and diaries, as well as newspapers, dating back as early as the 1600s, deer migrated from the northern climes of the state of Maine, many of them taking up residence on the many islands off the coast of Maine. This migration, even back then, was attributed to the harassment of wolves and other large predators, in combination with harsh winters and an eroding of habitat.

So, when people read articles like the one linked to above, it would be helpful to all concerned if a bit more explanation went into the complexities of understanding deer populations and causes of mortality, which greatly affects the habits of deer.