Poor Hunting Conditions Cause Drop in Deer Harvest

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The registration tags are counted, and last fall's rainy, warm and windy November was a major factor in dropping the 2003 deer harvest to 30,313.

"Poor hunting conditions, caused by last November's unusual weather, coupled with low hunter effort during the firearms season, was the primary reason for the lower deer kill," said Gerry Lavigne, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife deer biologist.

As expected, the kill is down from the previous season's (2002) remarkable 38,153, which was the highest kill since 1968, and up from the 2001 harvest of 27,769. Yet the total was lower than the preseason expected kill of 35,800.

The total deer kill for each of the past ten deer seasons is as follows: 2003 - 30,313; 2002 -- 38,153; 2001 -- 27,769; 2000 - 36,885; 1999 - 31,473; 1998 - 28,241; 1997 - 31,152; 1996 - 28,375; 1995 - 27,384; 1994 - 24,683;

Overall, of the 30,313 deer registered during 2003, 1,751 were taken during the expanded archery season, 713 during the regular archery season, 827 on the youth hunting day, 25,663 during the regular firearm season and 1,359 during the muzzleloader season. Compared to 2002, the deer take during the regular firearms season dropped by -26%, while harvest for the other four seasons increased by 19% to 50%. Total deer harvest in 2003 declined by -21% from 2002 (38,153).

The statewide harvest of antlered bucks (16,185) in 2003 represents a -22% drop from the previous year (20,694), and the lowest buck kill in a decade. The top 5 buck-producing (per sq. mi. basis) Wildlife Management Districts in 2003 were (in descending order) districts 24, 21, 23, 17, and 22, all in central and southern Maine. Among the 16,185 antlered bucks taken in 2003, roughly 7,000 (43%) were 1 ½ year-olds (yearlings), while nearly 3,100 (19%) were mature bucks (4 ½ to 15 ½ years old). Male fawns are reported with antlerless deer.

71,653 any-deer and 947 bonus any-deer permits were allocated in 20 WMDs (2 WMDs for bonus permits) to achieve pre-determined doe harvest quotas.

Maine's statewide post-hunt population was 230,000 deer, or 7.9 deer/sq. mi. during 2003. This represents a -11% decrease from 2002 (259,000 deer). Part of this decline is attributable to the severe 2003 winter, and part is due to an ongoing effort to reduce deer density in several central and southern Maine WMDs. Deer population management during 2004 will focus on conservative doe harvests in our northern and eastern WMDs to increase deer to pre-2001 levels. However, we will continue to work toward reducing or stabilizing central and southern Maine herds to attain densities of 15 to 20 deer/sq. mi., as called for in our new deer management plan. The mild 2004 winter will enable us to increase allocations of any-deer permits in most WMDs.