Preliminary data from this year's Maine deer season indicate that this year's harvest will be in the mid 20,000's, not the low 30,000's as expected. That would be a decrease of approximately 30 percent from last year, and an approximately 20 percent greater decrease than expected. Last year's deer kill was 36,885, this year, biologists expected a harvest of approximately 32,850.
"Several factors made an impact on this year's harvest," said Gerry Lavigne, Deer Project Leader for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, "It's possible that we underestimated the impact of the severe 2001 winter on deer mortality in Central and southern Maine, but also part of the decline can be attributable to low hunter effort and sub-optimal hunting conditions observed by field biologists.
During the deer season, regional IFW biologists examined 6,000 deer, and tagging station operators collected additional data. That data was used to compile the preliminary harvest figure. A more complete picture of this past season as well as estimate of the deer population will be available in February.
"Far northern and western regions dropped in the numbers that were expected, but harvests in central and southern sections of the state decreased to a greater degree than we expected," said Lavigne.
Among the deer examined, there was a decrease in the number of yearlings relative to the number of older bucks and does. Yearling deer, or deer that were born in the early summer of 2000, would be the most susceptible to the severe winter of 2000- 2001. Some younger bucks that were examined, ages 2 ½ to 4 ½ also showed slightly poorer antler development this year, which is also an indicator of the past year's severe winter.
This firearms deer season, which ran from October 27 to November 24, was one of the earliest ever. The first two and a half weeks of the season preceded the peak of the rut (November 15-22) when deer are most active. Weather was warmer and drier than normal during all four weeks, limiting deer movement; and there were no prolonged cold snaps, keeping hunters out of the field. While there were several days of tracking snow in parts of Maine, the snow cover was of short duration. All the factors seemed to have contributed to a lower than expected deer harvest.
Reports from regional IFW biologists from all parts of the state noted a lack of hunting pressure throughout the season. While some areas were more heavily hunted than others, hunter effort did not materialize to the level it had in years past. In conversations with hunters, biologists noted four common laments: less deer sign, weather that is too warm, bucks not rutting yet and the season is too early. They noted that hunter enthusiasm certainly could have waned after initial outings proved unsatisfactory.