What's the Fall Deer Outlook For Maine, NH, Vermont and Massachusetts?
By V. Paul Reynolds

Lest we forget, last winter was a doozy. Prolonged cold and snow depths in excess of six feet, especially in Northern Maine, made survival difficult for Maine's whitetail deer. From the perspective of a deer biologist, who calculates the Winter Severity Index and monitors winter deer kills, it was "an extremely ugly winter." Those words from Maine's lead deer biologist Lee Kantar.

In Aroostook and Washington Counties where deer numbers have been pathetically low in some areas, the mean winter was a double whammy. In their annual struggle for survival, wintering deer who could find a suitable deer yard had to contend with both extreme weather and coyotes that are no longer being constrained by man.

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How will all of this translate into Maine's fall deer harvest?

According to biologist Kantar, "It should be painfully obvious that deer are not going to be plentiful in the northern part of the state." Kantar says that in northern Maine's District One the average winter mortality rate runs about 17 percent."It was 34 percent this winter up there," said Kantar. Before the winter snows, Aroostook County had an estimated deer population of just under two deer per square mile. Ironically, there are probably more lynx - which is a federally protected threatened species - per square mile in Aroostook than there are deer!

Although areas of Maine with decent deer numbers before last winter will not be hit as hard by the severe weather, the "adult does and fawns still got hammered," according to Kantar.

As a result this fall's quota of anydeer poermits were reduced accordingly. The state is issuing 14,000 fewer doe permits than a year ago. The number this year is about 51,000. Biologists concnerned about deer numbers also have added 10 additional districts to the bucks-only list. In 2007, there were only eight districts with bucks only restrictions.This year there will be 18 districts where doe harvests will be off limits.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, a New Brunswick deer study has found that older bucks are surviving the tough winters a lot better than expected. Kantar believes that the study is also applicable to Maine's big woods, as well as Central Maine and our Western mountains. Last year, Maine deer hunters tagged 16,000 bucks. Kantar is expecting this fall's buck harvest to be about 14,000.

What's the overall outlook for this fall's deer hunt? "I think that there will be a moderate harvest," says Kantar. He points out that an increase in bucks-only districts automatically means a reduced kill. And, of course, the weather is always a variable that effects the harvest numbers. For example, unusually warm November days or heavy rain generally means fewer deer hunters in the woods.

An additionally variable this year is the price of gas and a sluggish economy. That may translate into fewer hunters in Maine this fall.

The general firearms season for deer is Nov. 1st to Nov. 29th this year. The expanded archery hunt is Sept. 6 to Dec. 13th.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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