October 20, 2020

Is Muzzleloader Hunting Good or Bad?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What a terrible title for a post. Let me funnel the broadness of this topic down to a focused and relevant area of discussion.

Once again, someone in Maine has asked the question as to whether or not the two weeks of muzzleloader hunting for deer, after the end of the regular rifle season, is “good or bad.” From all accounts that I have read, where someone is attempting to place a “good or bad” perspective on this late-season event, pros and cons have surrounded topics such as whether the odds are better or worse, the so-perceived added challenge of having a single shot weapon to bring down a deer, weather conditions, a chance to hunt with fewer hunters, and occasionally whether or not it was worth hunting for bucks because of the weight they have lost due to the annual fall rut or mating season.

I think I am the only one who has ever brought up the subject of whether or not muzzleloader deer hunting the first two weeks of December is good or bad based on the condition of the deer herd and in particular that of the male species of the whitetail deer.

In Maine, human-caused harassment of deer begins in early September, with Expanded Archery Season, and winds down in mid-December at the conclusion of Muzzleloader Season. That’s three months worth of harassment. How does this contribute to the overall mortality of deer?

In regions where there are ample deer – Maine is not one of those regions – sometimes the struggle becomes how to get rid of too many deer. Where there are too many deer, topics like predator mortality and hunting pressure are almost never discussed. But, in a state, like Maine, where many regions are virtually void of deer, responsible management MUST include consideration for every factor that contributes to the mortality of deer regardless of how small such negative influences may be.

During the month of November in Maine, the whitetail deer undergoes the annual mating season. Not totally unlike that of the human animal, the male species goes bonkers chasing female deer that are in heat. Until a female deer conceives, it will remain in heat. Bucks will chase any deer that is in need of being bred.

During this rutting season, lasting as long as 2 or more weeks, depending on conditions, the male deer essentially stop eating while in pursuit. Much of the winter fat that was being stored leading up to the rut, is burned up. In states like Maine, where winters can be long and severe, all deer need as much stored fat in order to survive. Some are under the misconception that the male deer, being stronger and bigger, can easily survive these kinds of winters and the dangers lie with the fawns born that preceding Spring. A completely spent buck may not have the strength left to survive a long, hard winter.

The Maine regular rifle season generally ends the last Saturday in November. By this time, the rut has mostly concluded – there may be some stragglers – and, depending upon weather conditions, in some locations deer are heading into their wintering habitats, where eating is limited and activities reduced in order to conserve fat, energy, etc. for survival. Should we be harassing them?

Maine is one state that opts for a muzzleloader season for an additional two weeks after the regular rifle season. While the number of hunters who muzzleloader hunt is small in comparison to the rifle season, one should consider how much this added two weeks of harassment is compounding the overall mortality of the deer herd.

In areas where deer are running 2 – 5 deer per square mile, the loss of one or two deer due to this added harassment could be detrimental to the herd. Keep adding to this small mortality year after year and what becomes of the sustainability of a threatened deer herd?

I realize that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) biologists limit the Muzzleloader Season in some zones to one week, but even that one week can be costly. Isn’t there a better way?

It’s always an unpopular position to take among hunters to suggest limiting hunting opportunity, but one should ask why it is necessary to have a special interest hunt at this time of the season? I hunt with friends who use muzzleloaders throughout the rifle season. Is a special interest hunt really necessary?

I know the archery hunters will get angry if anyone suggests muzzleloading before the rifle season as it might interrupt their special interest seasons, but shouldn’t we, in Maine, be considering the condition and growth/preservation of the herd during a time when many parts of the state are struggling in attempts to grow a bigger herd?

If Maine had more deer than it knew what to do with, I doubt anyone would be having this kind of discussion, instead, talking about what to do with all the deer.

The impacts of the two-week Muzzleloader Season are probably minimal. However, the impact becomes greater within a diminished herd.

Share