July 14, 2020

Buy Em Guns, Send Them to Hunt, and Then What?

I was reading Bob Humphrey’s recent article about making this year “The Year of the Hunter.” As I have come to expect, Bob Humphrey, one of Maine’s better outdoor writers, is always full of words that are constructive and positive, something perhaps I should take a lesson in. However, I am too strong a realist to be drawn so far away that I would find myself showing up to a birthday party that has no balloons, ice cream, and a cake.

Mr. Humphrey laments of the continuing decline in hunter participation. We tend to superficially putter along with suggestions of how to increase hunter participation, with perhaps not putting enough focus on the balloons and the birthday cake.

All of the writer’s suggestions make a lot of sense: recruitment, mentorship, apprenticeship licenses, involvement in “R3 Program” (recruit, retain, reactivate), controlling social media, improved landowner relationships, joining deer conservation and advocacy groups, and basically speaking out about the positive aspects of hunting.

While Humphrey sort of casually mentions, “Since 1988, the Quality Deer Management Association has promoted “sustainable, high-quality deer populations, wildlife habitats and ethical hunting experiences through research, education, advocacy and hunter recruitment.”

There are many groups of all variety of make-up that “promote sustainable, high-quality deer populations,” but what does promote mean? Are these groups forming because state-funded government fish and game departments are incapable of sustaining high-quality deer populations? Don’t we need our fish and game departments to go beyond marketing a not-so-good product…with a straight face no doubt? Fish and game departments should be the leaders not the followers of advocacy groups.

All dressed up for the party, with invitation in hand, and all the supporting propaganda telling me what a great party this is going to be, arriving at the party and finding no cake and ice cream means I won’t be hanging around for long, and will become gun shy (sorry) to return again.

All states’ deer hunting problems are different. All states are suffering some degree of hunter loss. With a dwindling population of hunters (I would bet with continued hunter loss those retaining an interest are more serious about what they do and thus will seek out those places where they have the best chance a bagging a “trophy.”), competition becomes real and it is a no-brainer that if the party has no cake and ice cream, the interest will continue to decline and Maine is removed from consideration as a destination hunting ground and interest within the state continues to shrink.

Yes, there are other problems too that contribute to the lack of interest, but an unsustainable, poor-quality deer population makes all other “recruitment, retentions, reactivation” efforts a bit of a futile effort.

People in Maine are a bit dishonestly led to believe that the deer population is “healthy” and that while numbers may not be at peak levels, there are plenty of deer to go around. It is when we honestly examine where the deer are concentrated we realize the majority of geographic and huntable areas, have deer densities that make it, let’s say, a poor product that is very difficult to promote “retention, recruitment, and reactivation.”

Back in October, I commented on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (MDIFW) efforts at promoting “R3” by recruiting some greenhorns and sticking them in a ground blind in the middle of a game preserve. Oddly enough, from a state that is not exactly all in with “canned hunting” they use canned hunting in an attempt to recruit new hunters. The question I asked is why didn’t the MDIFW put them in places where the rest of us are forced to hunt? The answer is simple. Sitting in a blind for hours on end seeing nothing, is like going to a birthday party with no cake and ice cream. Are you getting my point here?

Not that we should give up all the efforts that Mr. Humphrey and others have suggested to recruit more hunters, but retention and reactivation is going to be a very big task to accomplish unless those huntable regions of Maine grow more deer.

So, the big and obvious question is how do we grow more deer in Maine’s huntable and deerless regions? Let’s first begin with what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t use terrible excuses, like Climate Change and claiming there’s just as many deer now as there used to be – there may be but they aren’t where they can be hunted. If a warming climate, the most favorite of all excuses, was real, then Maine deer regions to the north would be seeing deer growth as the winters become less severe and the forests change. The news is they are not.

We need to work even harder with landowners, even the big ones, to protect deer wintering areas. But large predators growing at unchecked rates is a real problem. While some efforts have been undertaken to reduce coyote/wolf populations, more effort needs to be done. We eat deer. We don’t eat coyotes…at least not yet.

At the same time, serious efforts need to be taken to cut the black bear population down to “healthy” levels – healthy for the bears and healthy for deer. Bears are killing fawns soon after the fawning season, seriously cutting into fawn recruitment, making sustainable deer populations impossible.

The Maine Legislature needs to stop dawdling and caving to special interest groups, like guides and outfitters, and do what is best for all game populations, not necessarily bank accounts.

Consider what has changed since deer populations in many parts of the state have dwindled. In those same regions, black bear populations are growing out of control, coyote/wolf numbers are at all time highs, and moose numbers remain strong. Why is it that all that can be seen is finding fault with the Climate?

I don’t know of any hunters who seriously want to see the Big Woods of northern Maine teeming with deer. However, an increase from 1-3 deer per square mile, to 2-5 deer per square mile or even 3-6 might make a huge difference in accomplishing the 3 “Rs.”

If Maine is going to push this recruitment, retention, and reactivation thing, let’s lay the groundwork first to make sure we got the cake and ice cream. It sure would make all that work a lot easier. Who knows, if Maine had a terrific deer product to market…if you build it they will come?

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Maine Big Game Harvests: One Excuse is as Good as Another

The opening line in a Portland Press Herald news article says that Maine’s bear, turkey, and deer harvests were all down from last year, “but on par with wildlife biologist’s expectations.” This was followed by all the “usual suspect” excuses, including Climate Change, however, referred to as “extreme weather.”

This prompts me, one more time, to retell the story of the man who wanted to borrow his neighbor’s ax. The neighbor said, “No, you can’t. It’s Tuesday.” The man asked what Tuesday had to do with borrowing his ax and the neighbor answered, “Nothing. But if I don’t want you to borrow my ax, one excuse is as good as another.”

Excuses! Excuses!. And how about a little bit of honesty in reporting? The article states that Maine’s biologists expected deer harvest numbers to be down because, “…the state issued fewer “Any-Deer Permits.” What’s not reported is what the comparative “Any-Deer Permit” harvest was with last year. The reality is that regardless of the number of “Any-Deer Permits” issued it may not have had much influence on the overall deer harvest. One of the last reports we received from MDIFW was that they were not achieving the desired doe harvest rates from the issuance of “Any-Deer Permits.”

While the article mentions that more “bonus deer permits were handed out,” we haven’t a clue as to how this offset the reduction in “Any-Deer Permits” or the resulting harvest. Hocus-pocus – smoke and mirrors.

I have a stinking suspicion that once all data is collected and an honest assessment of that data is examined, we’ll find out what some of us already know – the deer herd, with the exception of a couple of Wildlife Management Districts in the central part of the state, is poor with little effort being taken to do anything about it.

With the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) announcing their intentions to manage deer for “health” rather than spend time counting (somehow the two are not related?), I would suspect the herd population to continue to shrink, along with interest in deer hunting. After all, who wants to spend money and effort beating the forest for deer, when the odds of success at bagging a deer continue to shrink? And we wonder why license sales continue to drop?

Turkey and bear harvest numbers were abysmal and still MDIFW and the Maine Legislature continue to tread water doing nothing about what has become a nuisance flock of wild turkeys and a potentially dangerous swarm of black bears. With all these bears, we should be thankful it was a bountiful mast crop. Tens of thousands of hungry bears can spell disaster.

We are at a point where serious changes need to be made with both turkey and bear hunting bag limits and/or lengths of season. Dithering continues to rule the day, I suppose operating in fear that “social demands” won’t tolerate more bears and turkeys being killed.

Here’s a suggestion. MDIFW should cease with the “social demands” pandering, along with letting the guides and outfitters tell them how to run their hunting seasons and bag limits, and do what is best for game management. But I realize those days are long gone, therefore we should expect more of the same, and “one excuse is as good as another” when it comes to explaining game harvest numbers.

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There’s More to Recruiting Hunters Than Sticking Them in a Blind and Parading Deer By Them to Shoot

When Judy Camuso was nominated to serve at the position of the head of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), in her testimony before the Joint Standing Committee for fish and wildlife, she pointed out that as part of her plan to grow more hunters and fisherman, she intended to become involved in a nationwide recruitment program, R3. She stated that her plan, “…will include measurable goals for recruiting, retaining and reactivating hunters and anglers but it will build relationships with non-consumptive users as well.” 

In a critique of Commissioner Camuso’s ambitious programs as commissioner, I questioned her intent to bring together consumptive and non consumptive users, while at the same time believing the two can work productively toward the same goals that satisfy both sides AND recruit new hunters and fishermen.

Today I was reading a Press Herald story about the MDIFW’s efforts at “recruiting” new hunters by allowing 9 hunters to be guided (spoon fed) on a deer “hunt” on the state-owned Swan’s Island.

I commend the commissioner and the MDIFW at making a swipe at recruitment. However, I am left with lots of questions about the event, the methods and within the article some comments and information that was given that was perhaps incomplete, leaving readers with a misguided understanding of the whys and wherefores of hunting, retention, and recruitment (R3).

The article in reference referred to Swan Island as “the perfect classroom” stating, “The place has become a haven for deer, which congregate in fields in groups as large as 50.” It may be, by one reporter’s perspective, as the “perfect classroom” but it is representative of what deer hunting in Maine is like? Who gets to do that? What happens when these 9 people (who expressed an interest in trying again) go off on their own and perhaps can’t afford a blind or a swivel seat to go in it? (It used to be a pot and a window…but I digress.) Will they ever see that many deer again?

“IFW set up pop-up camouflage tents to serve as blinds, equipping them with special swivel chairs that let the newbies quietly pivot as they watched the woods.” Even being “coached” by Game Wardens, staff, and biologists about “hunting techniques,” I wonder if it’s being all that honest with any possible recruit to place them in a ground blind where as many as 50 deer in a group might pass by because hunting has not been allowed on Swan Island for 50 years?

The article states that the 9 novice hunter program was a success because, “…seven of the nine bagged a deer,” and, “all the participants expressed an interest in hunting again.” Not knowing the reasons all 9 applicants were interested in this hunt to begin with, one has to wonder if sitting in a cold blind for hours on end and never seeing a deer, for years on end, a “novice” would express interest in trying it again? Maybe that has something to do with fewer licenses being sold?

In an attempt to place blame for loss of hunters and failure to recruit or retain more hunters, the author brings out the “numbers” and the talking point excuses of where the blame lies: “…technology;  overscheduled lives, especially for young families; and the aging of fish and game clubs that once formed the heart of the hunting community.”

HUH?

The last time I examined data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on why license sales for hunting were on the decline, the number one excuse given for not taking to the woods to hunt, was lack of time.

It’s easy to blame technology. Anyone with two eyes can see what so-called technology and social media is doing to American Society in general. Over-scheduled lives is a poor catchall excuse. Scheduling of our lives is driven by interest not by somebody’s “technology.” If hunting was part of the talk around the kitchen table, where that heritage is discussed before, during, and after the deer hunting season, people would find the time to hunt.

There are other reasons recruitment and interest to hunt are in decline…or in what might appear to be interest in hunting. One issue was discussed in the article in question. It began by discussing Apprentice Hunter Licenses. Bragging that the Apprentice Program has been around over a decade, listen to the hoops that need to be jumped through: “That license, which costs $26 for Mainers (and $115 for non-residents), allows someone 16 years or older who has never had a valid hunting license to hunt in the presence of a “supervisor.” The supervisor must be at least 18 and have had a hunting license for the previous three years.” Money, money, money and more “educational” programs that not just a perspective hunter has to go through in hopes they might become a longtime hunter.

You’ll always ruffle up the dander on the backs of some necks when you start discussing things like the potential obstacles any hunter or perspective hunter must go through to get their feet wet in hunting, or bringing a long-time hunter from Maine or away back when they have to take valuable time to attend classes for hunter “safety” and show “proficiency” in handling a gun and shooting it. While hunter safety has certainly made the woods during the deer hunt much safer, has anyone honestly assessed as to whether the decline in participation is directly proportional to the time constraints of hunter education, license costs, and…and…and…? Maybe, hunter education has stopped the total abandonment of hunting. Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

So, whenever we allow someone to feed us “data” that shows license sales and all the rigged demographics that go with them, nowhere is it ever discussed as to how hunter recruitment, retention, and re-interest is influenced by lousy hunting. Years spent afield with seldom, if ever, even spotting a deer probably plays as big a deterrent as anything, including technology and over-scheduled lives – time and money for what?

Just a quick glimpse into the past and it doesn’t take a statistics guru to figure out that as the deer harvest is trending down, down, and down (yes, with a couple false spikes upward) deer hunting license sales are also trending down, down, and down. Is it that we are not supposed to talk about such things? Is this why 9 novice hunters (out of 20 applicants) were placed in a blind on a small island that hasn’t been hunted for 50 years and deer sometimes will, literally, run you over? What’s wrong with bringing them to where my blind is? Where I haven’t seen a deer in years? I’m trying to remember when the last time I was able to sit in a blind – with a “special swivel seat” (wink-wink) where as many as 50 deer to a bunch passed by. Forget it. It NEVER happens in the real world. So, is MDIFW hoodwinking perspective hunters? How often will MDIFW continue to offer these free lunches to those who say they might be interested in deer hunting? Until the deer on Swan Island are all gone? Will potential recruits have to buy a license, and buy an “Any-Deer Permit,” like the rest of us do, when deer numbers on the island dwindle, like everywhere else in the state?

I’m not sure I know any real Maine hunters who don’t think it would be a great idea to recruit more hunters. I don’t know of any real Maine hunters who don’t think that if there were more deer perhaps the three “Rs” would take care of themselves. But what do I know?

I’m just a grumpy Ole Maine Hunter.

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Biggest Bucks of Maine Per Year of Deer Harvest

Most people in Maine and other parts of deer hunter havens across the country, know that the biggest buck, by weight, ever taken in Maine was in 1955. Horace Hinkley’s record buck weighed in at 355 pounds.

There were two hunters who tied for second largest bucks recorded at 310 pounds, 42 years apart. Do you know who they were and where the deer were taken? Visit Troy Frye’s Facebook page and you can get a list of the biggest bucks taken in Maine, the year they were taken, the hunter’s name, and where the deer was shot.

Thanks Troy!!

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2018 Maine Deer Harvest By County

Kennebec County in Maine, had the greatest 2018 deer harvest. If you would like to see what each Maine country had for a deer harvest in 2018, please visit Troy Frye’s Facebook Page.

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Ayuh! A Biggun! Wicked Lotta Hohns Too!

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Too Many Deer Being Harvested?

Yeah, I know. I’m never satisfied. It’s either too hot or too cold, etc. However, just asking!

According to Bill Green of Bill Green’s Maine, hunters have taken 30,299 deer through the regular firearms season. Muzzleloader season remains.

Last season, 2017, total deer harvest of all disciplines, totaled 27,233. Easily Maine will exceed a 10% increase in deer harvested. Last year Maine muzzleloader hunters took 970 deer, so we might add another 1,000 deer to the 30,299 when harvest totals are completed.

I have discussed numbers and asked questions before, so let’s do this one more time. In 2017 Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) allotted 66,050 “Any-Deer Permits” (ADP) with tags used totaling 6,054 doe (antlerless) deer. This harvest was 13% less than deer manager’s harvest projections.

My question going into this deer hunting season with MDIFW issuing a record number of ADPs, 84,745, was why did the projected “Any-Deer” harvest fall 13% short? Evidently, MDIFW managers believe that increasing the number of ADPs will increase the number of females, or antlerless deer harvested. But, do we know that falling short of projections was the result of not enough permits issued? It is important to have this information.

There’s a problem with issuing record numbers of ADPs, even if the majority of those ADPs are issued for Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) with more deer per square mile than managers desire – and one of those problems is what we have seen this season with hunters being able to hunt on lots of snow (in many places) for extended periods of time (three weeks in most of Western Maine).

I don’t have any scientific data to support any claim that it seems that it is in those areas with the most snow, falling on the earliest dates, are in those WMDs where deer per square mile is extremely sparse. With early snow in those areas combined with a record number of ADPs, have we harvested too many deer? What will this cost us?

While it is nice for hunters that 31,000 deer have been harvested, the increase in harvest is NOT due to an increase in the overall population of deer throughout the state. What does this mean for next year’s deer harvest? While it’s too early to predict, with better than two feet of snow on the ground in the Western Foothills, and we haven’t reached December yet, are we staring down the barrel of another “severe” winter that will wipe out the rest of the herd? Do deer managers factor in the possibility of hunters having snow to hunt on nearly the entire season, which in and of itself causes harvest numbers to increase? This amount of snow this early is not even close to approaching normal. (Damned the Global Warming)

Are we going to pay for this and if so, how much?

Addendum:

I have spent many years bitching and complaining that MDIFW cannot get deer harvest numbers out to the public in some time period less than 6-8 months after the fact. MDIFW has finally done it and digitalized the tagging process so that this information is at the hands of managers instantly.

While it appears that the only way to get that information is to contact someone at MDIFW and hope for cooperation, we can get occasional updates from media sources who get cooperation, such as Bill Green.

I have expressed that there are few excuses to use that would prohibit the managers from placing live tagging information on the MDIFW website and would certainly like to see this in another year. We’ll see.

With that all said, congratulations and thank you to the personnel at MDIFW for getting this task moved into the modern era and that we can at least have harvest data that we don’t have to wait months for.

*Editor’s Note* – Within moments of publishing this report, MDIFW published a press release with deer harvest information. You can read their report by clicking on this link.

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A Most Different Thanksgiving

Yesterday, I awoke around 5 a.m. to -2 degrees F. Need I remind readers it is only November? With around 16 inches of snow on the ground and the wind whipping at times to 25 miles per hour, I’m not such a die-hard whitetail deer hunter, anymore, that I felt inspired to get out in this crap. Instead, I journeyed east on a three-hour car ride for Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.

My eighteen-year-old Florida van, that has never seen salt or any temperatures below 32 degrees, made some of the darndest noises as it mumbled and grumbled in protest even louder than I was. I kept asking questions like, what the heck is that noise and consoling the old girl telling her it will be okay. You’ll be back in Florida in a couple of weeks, and I’ll give you a nice bath.

As in most any car, regardless of its age, riding on frozen Maine highways makes you think something has seriously happened to the suspension. By the time I got to my destination, I got a rush of memories of winters of many years gone by when I spotted the dark brown globs of frozen slush directly behind each wheel. The frozen reminders of nastiness were all large enough that the tires themselves kept the size shaved down, and each time I hit a “frost heave” or a pothole, the compression of the vehicle kept the bottoms of each mini iceberg from growing beyond its maximum.

As I drove along the highway, carefully monitoring my engine temperature gauge wondering if I have the right mixture of coolant/antifreeze to keep the engine from freezing, I began to reminisce about what the sides of the roads used to look like on Thanksgiving Day – each old logging road would have a car or truck parked in it, as hunters have hit the woods. In my 3-hour journey, mostly covering back roads, I saw none. I took notice of all vehicles I spotted, looking for “hunter orange” clothing – hats, vests, jackets, even the now shied away from rifle racks for fear of “offending” someone. I saw three that I suspected were going to or coming from hunting.

Is this the case because it was so cold? It’s been cold before. Is it because it was a holiday? Isn’t it a Maine tradition for hunting families to have Thanksgiving dinner after dark because the daytime is spent trying in near desperation to fill that tag? Or maybe there just aren’t many people left who hunt – perhaps because there are so few deer left, getting motivated to hunt in the cold is extremely difficult to do.

It’s Friday morning now. The temperature on my deck thermometer reads 10 degrees – “We’re having a heat wave!” There are today and tomorrow and then the deer hunting season draws to an end. I’m struggling to reason and to find excuses I guess. There’s snow to hunt on but it’s a bit deep and crusty/crunchy. It is also cold to be out long.

What to do? I leave for Florida for the winter in just a few days. Do I want to shoot a deer and then rush around to get the deer processed? I’ve frozen the meat and packed it in ice for the trip to Florida before, but I’m not sure I want to do that again.

The forecast says Saturday, the last day, high temps here are to reach a balmy 33 degrees.

Maybe tomorrow will be a better day for us fair-weather fairies to take one more whack at it.

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Carry In, Carry Out

Carry In

Carry Out

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Maine’s Deer Harvest Numbers

There are 5 more days, including today, to hunt whitetail deer in Maine. With the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (they must all be on vacation) new digital, instant tagging technology, we have been told that Maine’s deer harvest so far is…ah…er…well. Maybe next year.

God, technology is a beautiful thing!

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