March 22, 2023

The Case Against the Case For Antler Point Restrictions

In the January/February issue of SAM (Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine) News, Vol. 41, No. 1, author Mike Look presents his argument for Antler Point Restrictions (APR) as they may pertain to whitetail deer management. In essence this was a counterpoint to the case made by Gerry Lavigne against APRs.

Personally, I do not favor APRs for the simple reason that the entire proposal most closely resembles the cries by selfish hunters to grower bigger trophy deer for trophy hunting. It’s easy to say most hunters want this but the only data that I have seen in this case shows that the clear majority of Maine deer hunters want meat for their freezers, and if, while searching for that meat, they are “lucky” enough to bag a “trophy” (a value weighted perspective), then they’ll gladly accept the bonus.

Bearing that in mind, if real science showed that, in Maine, APRs, different from the “Any-Deer Permit” system the state now employs, became necessary to improve and/or protect the deer herd, then I would support some kind of APR. Is Maine trying to grow the number of deer or the age of the deer?

I’m not exactly writing today to support or refute APRs…not exactly. However, I wanted readers to understand my personal perspective on APRs.

In addition to this, the article Mike Look wrote contains what he describes as three questions Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) must have answered before they would consider implementation of an APR program. Here are the three questions exactly as Look presented them in his article.

1. “Will the APR protect at least 50% of the yearlings? (i.e. make the program biologically sound).”

2. “Is the APR supported by a majority of hunters and landowners?”

3. “Will APR results be objectively monitored to determine success or failure?”

There is little need to spend time attempting to answer each of these three questions in detail because any answer can only be answered as honestly and objectively as the questions themselves. In the first question, are we hunters to assume that because an APR program would “protect at least 50% of the yearlings,” that it makes such a program “biologically sound?”

The author uses results from a recent polling/survey company to make claims that the majority of hunters support APRs. The problem with these surveys, and Responsive Management is included, is the results are only the product of the manipulation of questions to get answers that are desirable. Deny this fact all you want but it is a proven fact. To ask those taking the survey if they would approve an APR of three point to a side, has no qualifying information such that the survey taker can make an honest answer. Neither is there such information available from those promoting APRs.

Maine is a unique place in which to manage deer…as is “Anyplace,” United States. All management decisions for deer have to be uniquely considered. This is one reason that wildlife management has evolved into Wildlife Management Districts (WMD). The process of wildlife management evolved to a point that managers realized that it was a better and more responsible way to care for wildlife, if decisions made could be done within smaller areas. I don’t think I need to give examples of this benefit.

Perhaps if APRs could be somehow, relatively easily, implemented within WMDs that would biologically benefit deer, I could support the decision.

The third question is a killer. It asks if the program is going to be “objectively monitored.” How can this possibly be? Objectivity, regardless of what you have been told, is always based upon somebody’s values. It appears to me that if, say, Quality Deer Management Association, worked with Maine to employ an APR, then what QDMA says is the holy grail. By implementing their rules of conduct and what constitutes winning and losing, then perhaps Maine could “objectively monitor” comparing results with what QDMA considers winning and losing and then we can all hold hands and be winners – we’d get trophies too? (I mean the shiny pins and ribbons.) Success in this instance, appears to be bigger deer, not necessarily a better deer herd.

Age structure is one very important aspect in managing for a healthy, sustained whitetail deer population. Putting in place an APR limiting harvest to only bucks with at least 3 points on one side of the set of antlers, could alter that age structure detrimentally. There certainly are lots more important elements to deer management.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has not supported APRs in the past and I think for very good reasons. In this, I support their decision. With the exception of some central and southern regions of the state, Maine has a more serious management program than making decisions that seem to be pushed by “trophy” hunters.

If QDMA uses these three questions to decide whether to push for an APR program, I would have to question whether their reasons are sound. Responsible deer management must consider much more than protecting 50% of yearlings, (like finding ways to protect at least 30% of fawns in order to become a yearling), whether hunters and landowners want bigger deer and if the results will be assessed according to QDMA standards of success.

I haven’t seen but one or two deer in the woods while hunting in Maine over the past 5 years. To hell with bigger bucks. How about we get to work and figure out how to protect deer beyond Spring fawning?


Harvested Deer Per Square Mile Data

Quality Deer Management annually collects deer data from state wildlife agencies and makes it available to anyone of interest. The 2013 Whitetail Report can be found on their website at this link.

There certainly are a lot of data that I think is safe to say reinforces the old adage that statistic prove that statistics can prove anything.

Due to a tip from a reader I began looking through the report with a bit of a focus on deer harvest by state per square mile. As is pointed out in the report, the harvest per square mile is not necessarily indicative of deer population per square mile. However, it is important to note that deer densities and hunting pressure influence the percentage of harvested deer per square mile.

Without having that information in hand, it is difficult to make too many conclusions from some of the data available but in doing a state by state or region by region comparison, I suppose one can see how your state is doing as compared to others in your region.

For example, in the Northeast Region we can look at both the number of antlered bucks harvest per square mile and the number of does. In the Northeast Region, 13 states, Maine has the lowest antlered buck harvest per square mile at 0.4. Maryland topped the list at 3.4 harvested antlered bucks per square mile.

Bearing in mind also in these calculations and any conclusions you might want to draw, that states vary in how tags might be allotted for both antlered bucks and does or antlerless deer. For instance, Maine has a 3 1/2 inch requirement for harvesting an antlered buck. In addition, to harvest a doe, an “Any-Deer” permit is issued via a lottery. With that permit a hunter can harvest any sex and age of deer, providing they are hunting a Wildlife Management District that’s not closed to hunting “Any Deer.”

When we examine doe harvest, Maine, once again, scrapes the bottom of the barrel at 0.2 does harvested per square mile. Maryland stands at 6.3.

I’m not sure what all this information tells us but there is one thing for sure. If your state has a numerous and healthy deer herd and you are not overrun with hunters, you should be in for a good time. On the flip side, whoa to the hunter that beats the brush looking for deer that don’t exist. It matters not how many hunters are in the field. If there’s no deer and continues to be no deer, fewer hunters will spend time hunting.

Most hunters have a pretty good understanding of their state’s deer herd and success rates.


Quality Deer Management? Maine Needs QUANTITY Deer Management

It has taken awhile for me to finally get around to responding to George Smith’s article that appeared on on 12/11/2012 about some sportsmen in Northern Maine looking to implement Quality Deer Management for Aroostook County. It appears they would like the help and approval of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) but are running into strong opposition. I think those same sportsmen are going to run into mostly opposition from me on this one. (Smiling)It pains me greatly to agree with MDIFW for the most part on this issue.

In reading the article, one might get the impression that Quality Deer Management is about antler restrictions. This is only one aspect of a complete program that is designed around doing what the name of the program suggests; creating a “quality” deer herd.

Not to take me wrong, as I admire the passion to make hunting better, but I did guffaw a time or two in reading that some Northern Maine deer hunters want to create a quality deer herd. The reason for my snickering is that I was talking with a former Olympic ski coach once about problems I was having sustaining a “quality” ski team, year in and year out. His response to me, again not intended to offend simply to state the obvious, “Tom, you can’t make a good tossed salad if all you have to work with is a head of lettuce!”

Before I take the time below to post information and links (I’ve done this several years in a row) let me say that I am not necessarily opposed to Quality Deer Management, although I certainly believe it has its problems. However, I’m not sure that Northern Maine even has anything that resembles a head of lettuce. I just don’t see how “quality deer management” can rebuild a deer herd.

In Smith’s article, he quotes Gerry Lavigne, former MDIFW deer biologist and now works for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, as saying:

“I am still opposed to antler point restrictions, especially in northern Maine. Selectively removing bucks will not lead to deer recovery. Improving doe and fawn survival will.”

“Increase the deer population from 2 to 10/sq. mi. and we’ll have an abundance of mature bucks again,” said the always-outspoken Lavigne. “Any other strategy is just a smokescreen. Hunters deserve better than that.”

Doe and fawn survival is key. Deer herd management is complex and I don’t pretend to be an expert on it, but during my years of writing I have attempted numerous times to seriously explain to hunters that doe to buck ratios cannot be 100 does to 1 buck. Failing to grasp this concept makes it that much harder to educate hunters on how Quality Deer Management works and what the results will be and the purpose for seeking to implement it.

As I said, not everyone is a fan of QDM. Petersen’s Hunting magazine ran an article over a year ago asking, “Is Quality Deer Management Ruining Hunting?” Check it out.

And there’s always the debate that not only can be heard in coffee shops in deer country, but get published in national magazines, that trophy hunting ruins the gene pool. Nearly 4 years ago, Newsweek Magazine ran an article, “Survival of the Weak and Scrawny.” The tragedy of this publication was the authors, not only had no idea what they were talking about, they never sought out the hoard of scientists who refuted the claims of this study. It just made for good sales and a bit of controversy.

Dr. Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science, The University of Calgary, Canada, provided me with the information to better explain what transpired during that study. If you are serious about understanding deer herd management, and as it might pertain to how selective breeding for “quality” deer might work, I strongly urge readers to follow all of these links and do a bit of studying. It’s fascinating stuff.

I also took the time to post another piece to explain about “trophy” (by definition) hunting and the results of that. In this article is a grocery list of information that I was able to compile from a host of qualified scientists who speak freely about trophy hunting, genes and breeding; all related information.

I have yet to find a wildlife scientist, even a new-science scientist, who would agree that implementing Quality Deer Management would aid in rebuilding a deer herd. I don’t think Maine is ready for “quality” deer management. What is really needed is “quantity” deer management. Let’s put our efforts and resources together to figure out how to increase the deer fawn recruitment and THEN work on quality.

Note: Pro Quality Deer Management sportsmen, even then, may run into opposition from wildlife managers.