March 20, 2018

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.


And Maine’s 2017 Deer Harvest Total Is………?

Awe shucks! Maine is the last New England state to let people know anything about the deer harvest for 2017.

Maybe that new guy they hired to be the new head deer biologist doesn’t know how to count either. Question: How many piping plovers does it take to screw in a light bulb?


Difficult to Share Buck Harvest Data If It’s Not Available

I was reading an article this morning that included tips on booking a guided deer hunt in Maine. I would suppose that the same tips might be applied to any state that offers guided deer hunts. One of the tips suggests that you talk with possible future guides to find out about deer size, quantity, and quality along with success rates.

I have no real issue with guides. They have a necessary role to fill. What I have an issue with is when guides dictate to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) what they want and get it. Sometimes those demands appear to be to the detriment of other hunters and hunting opportunities. I don’t like that. You shouldn’t either. The same goes for outfitters. I don’t begrudge their businesses but I do when privilege is given to guides and outfitters cutting short opportunities for the regular “Joe” licensed hunter.

It seems a bit odd then, that given that MDIFW often goes out of their way to cater to the whims of guides and outfitters, that a registered Maine guide would tell his readers and prospective clients that to get harvest data, including deer size, quantity, and quality to go to Quality Deer Management to find out. Why not to the MDIFW website? Or, for that matter, the Maine Guides website?

As most readers know, I’m not a huge fan of Quality Deer Management, mostly because of what they promote, but that’s really beside the point of this discussion. Why do interested prospective deer hunters have to go someplace other than the MDIFW or the Maine Guides to get harvest data to look at before deciding whether they want to hire a guide and deer hunt in Maine?

It would seem that if MDIFW is really looking out for their “buds,” the guides and outfitters, they would do a better job of providing deer harvest data to them and the rest of us. If, as one Maine guide points out, it is an important precursor to booking a guided hunt, this information would be readily available. Maybe it is and is already given preferentially to guides and withheld from the rest of the public. Perhaps MDIFW doesn’t really give a damn.

Other outdoor writers have shared their disappointments that Maine doesn’t do enough to promote Maine as a destination deer hunting state. If this is true, putting harvest data on their website one year after a game hunting season, substantiates such claims. It is also an odd way of helping out the situation of selling licenses and keeping the guides and outfitters operating in the black.

Doesn’t it send a wrong message to the prospect searching for a good place to go deer hunting, that they are recommended to a lopsided, trophy hunt pushing entity for data on Maine hunting? Maybe MDIFW is happy with that. Perhaps the Office of Tourism is not? What about the Governor’s Office?

From my perspective, I would prefer to look at the hard data on Maine deer hunting than get someone else’s interpretation of that data. But that’s me. Maybe it would be a good idea to place on the MDIFW website good helpful deer, bear, moose, turkey, and grouse information that might convince someone to come and hunt Maine. Maybe they don’t have any such information. Maybe they don’t care. Or, perhaps they don’t really want the hunting.

The advice and tips given are probably good, although I’ve never employed a guiding service and more than likely never will. However, at the rate Maine is going, before hunting ends completely, and it will, hiring a guide may be the only way a person will be able to hunt. Then, none of this will really matter.


Deer Poaching is a Problem – So Is Misleading Information

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?


Is Maine’s Muzzleloader Deer Season in the Best Interest of the Deer?

I was sent a link to a short article written by Maine’s Bill Green about Maine’s muzzleloader deer hunting season that runs until this coming Saturday. Green quotes muzzleloader advocates: “It just gives you that two weeks to get out there in the woods with less people out there.” And, “You have to take your time and I think while you’re hunting you get flashbacks of the way that it was a couple hundred years ago and that’s kind of neat.

I often get a lot of flack back from readers when, to them, I don’t support increased opportunities to hunt, fish and trap. In reality, I do always support increased opportunities, but only when that increase is equitable and is not detrimental to the sustainability of any game species.

If muzzleloaders are looking for some extra time in the woods “with less people out there,” certainly there must be a period of time except during the first two weeks of December (explanation to follow). But consider that this allowance, even though anyone who chooses can buy a Muzzleloader License and buy a muzzleloader gun…..or can they? Is this a form of elitism, exclusive to those who can afford a license and another gun and a deterrent to those who can’t? Perhaps. I doubt that is considered. I doubt anyone actually cares.

Who can argue the enjoyment one gets being in the woods, even when carrying a gun, rifle, muzzleloader, or even a camera. Having “flashbacks” of maybe what it was like “a couple hundred years ago?” Two hundred years ago, did deer hunters have inline muzzleloaders that can be cleaned and reloaded in 30 seconds? Maybe some have “thoughts” about what it was like, but I don’t think there are any hunters who hunted 200 years ago so that they could have a “flashback.”

Aside from any discussion about primitive versus modern muzzleloader equipment, if a guy wants those thoughts, can’t he have them during the regular firearm deer hunting season? Or other times and places?

Here are some questions. Is the muzzleloader season just another money-making pet project for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW)? How about a pistol season? What of a muzzleloader pistol season? Can we get a season for atlatl hunting? Let’s make a season for only shotguns. One for only senior citizens. And one for veterans. A separate one for senior citizens who are also veterans. Where does this end?

But let’s get to the most important issue – the deer. Hunting rules for muzzleloader season are the same as during the firearms season. If you don’t have an “Any-Deer Permit” you have to hunt bucks only. Traditionally, the deer’s annual rut (mating season) falls around the third week of November. That doesn’t mean that that is the only week that deer mate. As soon as any female deer comes into “heat” (estrus) a male deer, with the opportunity, will mate with it. If during the month of November, a doe deer is not successfully bred, that doe will continuously remain in estrus until it gets bred. Science has shown that sometimes that breeding will not happen until late in November or into early December.

With that understanding and knowledge of how bucks run themselves ragged during rutting season, an honest question might be is it in the best interest of those deer, coming off or still in the rutting process, to continue allowing hunters to harass them? We know that bucks will lose most of their valuable, stored fats, needed for winter survival, during the rut. Because of this, buck mortality can be high during the long winter months. That time between the end of the rut and when deer are forced to “yard up” can determine whether a buck can survive the winter. Do we really want hunters, harassing those bucks even further during this period of time?

If the deer population is strong enough to support a two-week muzzleloader season, perhaps a more equitable increase in hunter opportunity might be to extend the firearm season for deer another day or two. At least let’s find a better time to give those muzzleloader hunters a chance to be alone in the woods and dishonestly have “flashbacks” about what it was like 200 years ago. Oh, please!


Maine’s Most Quiet Deer Hunting Season

Is there really a deer hunting season going on in Maine? As the old Maine saying goes, “Hahd tellin not knowin!”

I finished up my week at Hunting Camp in the usual fashion of seeing nothing. In addition, of the six of us spending the week in the woods, a couple of does were spotted…a couple more than in past years and so by today’s standards of ignorant bliss there’s reason to be excited that perhaps one day deer hunting will be worth the effort again.

But for those who live and hunt in areas where deer are protected (posted land, few predators, etc.), I’m a jerk for even suggesting deer hunting in Maine still mostly sucks. And, it’s going to get worse and never get better. But we’ll never know will we?

What the Environmentalists want, and will get, are protected deer, bear, moose, turkeys…any animal. Along with it they will get what every unmanaged ecosystem gets – death, disease and destruction, which is heavily denied by nearly everyone these days.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), in their quest to turn their department into one that more resembles all the other Environmentalists propaganda sites, leaving one to wonder if the department even bothers to pay any mind to “FISH AND GAME” anymore, has not only scrubbed their website of any information about deer hunting, bear hunting, moose hunting and turkey hunting harvest stats, but evidently has given up on publishing any Hunting Reports. In addition they evidently will not offer any information on the current deer hunting season. You might be one of the fortunate mouth pieces for the department, that if you call, you can speak to someone who will provide you with the latest line of propaganda, designed to cause media automatons to believe everything is great and all hunters are happy and have already bagged their deer.

If this trend continues, Mainers will soon not even realize the state has a deer hunting season. Maybe that’s why it seems there have been more hunting “accidents” this year where the victims seemed unprepared to be in or near the woods because there was a hunting season. That supposition does not excuse the reality that a hunter must always be 100% certain of his or her target BEFORE pulling the trigger. I don’t recall the MDIFW making any public announcements to remind residence of the deer season, or the bear season, or the moose season, or the turkey season. They do let you know when it’s time to buy a license or apply for a permit. Do they realize this cash cow is going to dry up and go away? NOPE!

I guess it’s just take the money and run….for now.

So what do those paid to run the Division of Information and Education do? Certainly it isn’t to inform hunters, trappers and fishermen of how their money is being spent. Crickets is all we are getting. Now that MDIFW has no intention of releasing to the public any harvest data, I would assume, by the looks of how things have gone so far, they also have no intention of talking about the deer season at all. Perhaps all the indoctrinated biologists, thoroughly saturated with Environmentalist garbage they brought with them from the brainwashing factories, are finally getting the department they want where they can concentrate on diminishing hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities while promoting a non consumptive approach to wildlife management. Along with this, they can take the money from license fees and excise tax dollars and focus all their attention on Climate Change – it is a great excuse for doing a piss-poor job. Perhaps the department will soon offer a new page to replace the game species data information pages, showing all the bad things that they want to believe has happened due to Climate Change. There must be more money in that.

Soon, some of the environmentalist outdoor sportsmen will get their wish and funding for MDIFW will come from general taxation. Along with it, they can complete their partnership with the Environmental Establishment. Please hurry and get the name changed from Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to Department of Natural Resources and Non Consumption Protection – MDNRNCP.

As I ponder over another bowl of track soup, once again I will have to ask myself why I bother to hunt in Maine and spend the money for a license. But then I think; isn’t that exactly what they want me to do?


Venison 101


Maine Legislature Axes Many Deer Hunting Bills

George Smith’s website lists all the deer hunting proposed pieces of legislation that got shot down. Thanks to the Legislature for addressing this list of useless bills in the fashion they did. It appears that many think “Any-Deer” permits are something to be used for special interest groups only.

In the meantime, those of us who care, are still waiting for the Department of Inland Fisheries and wildlife to release the harvest data for the 2016 deer hunt. So far, this is the third slowest in getting the report out.


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.


What Kind of Lazy-Ass Hunting is This?

One proposed bill in Maine concerning deer hunting is LD 62, an act that would legalize hunting deer over bait. Most already know I oppose this as it is not a necessary tool to keep deer populations in check, among other things, and I also find it ridiculous that it is legal to plant a “food crop” specifically for deer and hunt over that, as somehow being that much different than hunting over a pile of bait. Instead of increasing the ability to bait, it’s time MDIFW enacted a law making it illegal to hunt over food crops – those specifically planted at deer bait.


In George Smith’s article about discussion at the committee level on LD 62, there are two distinct comments/testimony made by those in attendance that readers should pay attention to.

One is a man named Guy Randlett, described as a Maine Guide who, among other things, said this: “Sitting in a nice dry ground blind in a comfortable chair from dawn till dusk only enhances it all for me.”

The second testimony is that of Dave Kelso, who favored passage of the bill. Among many issues he presented, he stated: “By allowing baiting for deer, landowners would be in a position to charge a lease fee for bait sites.” In addition, this: “The way that we hunt in Maine is changing and is going to change even more just in my lifetime. Leases and hunt clubs are going to come to Maine. You are going to be hearing about antler restrictions. With limited land and the possibility of having to judge a deer before pulling the trigger, baiting only makes sense to allow everyone an equal opportunity.”

If this is the direction that Maine wants to take its deer hunting, count me out. I realize that each hunter has his own preferences for hunting within the laws that regulate it. I would not suggest denying anybody of those choices. However, what is being described here, as though it is something good, in no way resembles the traditional deer hunting I grew up with. Not unlike catch and release fishing, I find lounging in a recliner waiting for a buck with big enough antlers to satisfy one’s qualifications of “trophy” as being quite perverse.

Because hunting deer while sitting in a blind with all the modern conveniences, staring at a bait pile, is an indication of how deer hunting is changing, I would suggest that, unless I’m the only one left alive who likes traditional deer hunting, we do everything in our power to stop this “progressive” change that will bastardize a once precious tradition.