December 3, 2023

A Discussion on Maine Antler Point Restrictions for Buck Deer

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Here we go again! Another debate about antler point restrictions for the perverts who only want to kill “trophy” deer. While this discussion builds, once again, most Mainers are not filling their freezers with the deer meat they want because of a diminished herd. And the talk involves trophy deer hunting?

In an article in the Lewiston Sun Journal by V. Paul Reynolds, he writes of antler point restrictions (APR). I guess I cannot classify myself as either for or against APR. In the case of Maine, I would be all for it if there actually existed sound science that shows it would grow a deer herd in numbers and not just in size (perhaps?).

Reynolds states that “what we know” about APR from what appears to be information he has gathered from Pennsylvania.

Here is what we do know: After six years of APRs in Pennsylvania, state biologists are calling antler restrictions there an unqualified success.

(Question: How can we “know” this if it’s “unqualified?”)

The “what we know” is listed as such:

1. Increased buck survival – (My note: How is this measured? #4 states there there is no change in hunter success rates. It seems the only way to have increased buck survival AND unchanged success rate is to have a pretty healthy herd growth, with good recruitment, each year. Then again, can there be “increased buck survival” simply because the younger bucks, which generally make up the larger percentage of buck harvest, are not being killed? Unsubstantiated, this claim could be misleading.)

2. No change in breeding timing (My note: This could be important but deer managers have continued to extend the deer hunting season well into and beyond the breeding season. I don’t see how APR could change this.)

3. Avoided negative genetic impacts – (My note: Assuming that means that APRs will not “destroy” the gene pool, a lack of understanding of genetics might lead someone to think such. Newsweek ran an article a few years ago on how trophy hunting (whatever that was as it was never defined) was destroying the gene pool, i.e. killing off all the big animals, would result in a weaker, smaller species. If you kill off all the big animals, the overall size of the herd may be smaller in size because that is what’s left, but this has nothing to do with genetics. (Please see this article for information about genetics and gene pools from Dr. Valerius Geist, Wayne Heimer, Michael and Margaret Firisna, Eric Rominger and Raymond Lee.)

In addition to this, Lee Kantar, former head deer biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and now head moose biologist, explained to me a few years ago about his thoughts on genetics and trophy hunting.

In the big game management world researchers have been looking more at potential consequences of trophy hunting and how it affects social hierarchies as well as the genetic structure of a particular herd. In order for real effects to take place, a significant number of older age class animals would need to be removed from the herd consistently over a number of years to start to have effects. In isolated herds with low total population numbers this could certainly be of concern…

In essence, the only way genetics, much like buck to doe ratios can be seriously altered is due to extremely poor management or none at all and unrestricted hunting, and/or a deliberate attempt to change genetics.)

4. Maintained hunter success rates – (My note: In the same article in reference here, Kyle Ravanna, MDIFW’s new deer biologist says, “if Maine imposed antler point restrictions, our hunter success rate on bucks, based on current statistics, would decline nearly 50 percent.” Note Ravanna didn’t say COULD decline 50% but WOULD. I’m not sure how he can make that determination. He may have preconceived notions based on information he has and what he would intend to do should Maine implement APR. I would concur that in Maine, with the present state of the deer herd, employing some kind of antler restriction that further restricts a hunter from being able to harvest a deer, would certainly lower the success rate AND anger a lot of hunters. Ravanna also stated that if an APR program wasn’t used “properly” it could actually harm the herd. And that I agree with.

For Pennsylvania to claim that APRs did not change the success rate, then they must have an abundant deer herd that reproduces well enough to not diminish the hunters’ chances at bagging a deer. Maine does not have an abundant deer herd in most areas and therefore, all I can envision by implementing APR is even more of a loss of opportunity to put meat in my freezer.

I strongly believe that the majority of deer hunters, do so for meat. A few are strictly “trophy” hunters, but most will be as picky as conditions permit but in the end they want meat – a trophy becomes a bonus. And probably most would like to have an increased chance at bagging a trophy but not at the expense of losing opportunity and/or reducing success rates.)

5. Increased number of adult bucks – (My notes: The only way this can happen is if the deer herd is healthy enough to consistently recruit enough fawns and yearling deer each season in order that with a consistent success rate, the number of “adult bucks” would remain the same or increase.)

6. Increased age structure of bucks – (My note: This would only stand to reason, provided of course recruitment remained basically unchanged. Age structure is a good indicator of the health and condition of a deer herd. This needs to be monitored carefully and management practices employed in order to meet the goals of a sound deer management plan. Simply increasing the age structure of a deer herd in not necessarily a good thing.)

Before any serious thought can be given to any kind of APR program, Maine has to get it’s deer herd back to a more consistently populated herd, with good age structure and recruitment.