WHEN'S THE HUNT?
THE FIREARMS deer-hunting season in Maine runs from Nov. 2 to Nov. 28, with Maine residents getting an early start on Oct. 31.
THE SEASON runs from Nov. 11 to Dec. 6 in New Hampshire and from Nov. 14 to Nov. 29 in Vermont.
PORTLAND — Maine's deer kill is expected to be the smallest in at least 25 years this fall because the deer herd has been shrinking across the state.
The harvest during November's deer-hunting season is projected to come in at 19,476. That would be the smallest harvest since 1984, when hunters bagged 19,358 deer.
In an effort to pump up the sagging deer population, the state has issued fewer permits allowing hunters to shoot female deer. George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, expects fewer hunters to take to the woods this fall.
"We continue to lose a key part of our hunting heritage," Smith said.
Maine's deer herd has become smaller after two straight winters with deep snowpacks and cold temperatures. Contributing to the decline, Smith said, is increasing predation from bears and coyotes. Bears prey on deer fawns, and coyotes prey on both adults and fawns.
Last fall's deer kill came in at 21,062, which was 27 percent below the 2007 total.
Other northern New England states had mixed results last year. In Vermont, hunters killed 17,046 deer, up 17 percent from 2007. The 2009 season is expected to be comparable to last year.
New Hampshire's harvest came in at 10,916 deer, down 19 percent from the previous year. The 2009 harvest is expected to increase, especially in southern and western areas, where winter weather has been less severe.
This year's harvest in Maine could be one for the ages– but not one that hunters will like. If the kill comes in lower than projections, it could fall to levels not seen since 1971, when 18,903 deer were killed. The smallest harvest before that took place in 1934, when hunters took 13,284 deer.
"We're right on the cusp, in that the deer harvest could go a bunch of different ways, on where it goes in the record books," said Lee Kantar, the deer and moose biologist with Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The state each year issues "any-deer permits" – which allow hunters to take either does or bucks – as a way to manage the state's deer population. Officials issue fewer permits when the deer population is in need of a boost, and more permits when the herd needs thinning.
There's no limit on the number of licenses for bucks.
It's estimated that there are fewer than 200,000 deer in Maine, with the northern half of the state having the thinnest numbers. The population fluctuates yearly, and topped out at 331,000 a decade ago.
The bleak hunting outlook could take an economic toll on guides, restaurants, lodges, taxidermists and others who cater to hunters, Smith said. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department will also derive less revenue from sales of hunting licenses.
Maine's deer have a hard enough time without predation from bears and coyotes, Smith said. He urged the state to do more, such as encouraging people to shoot more coyotes, to protect the state's deer population and its hunting heritage.
"This is the signature game animal for our state," he said.