Big Changes For Fall Hunt
by V. Paul Reynolds

The fall deer hunt may seem far off. But now is the time - while many of us are busy getting boats in the water and organizing tackle boxes - that game biologists and state lawmakers work behind the scene setting the stage for next fall's hunt. And big changes have taken place, changes that alter the fall '99 deer hunt in ways that are significant, if not downright historic. Here they are:

Record Number Doe Permits

State deer biologist Gerry Lavigne last week submitted his recommendation for the fall hunt. The news for deer hunters is very good. Lavigne recommended the issuance of 53,600 Any-Deer (doe) permits statewide. A lot of permits. Not since the early 90s have hunters had it so good, and the figures then weren't quite as high.

This any-deer quota is an increase of nearly 10,000 over last fall's. What's interesting is that for the first time in many years, Lavigne's harvest prediction, which is generally uncannily accurate, didn't pan out last fall. In fact, the 98 doe kill, which is the keystone of the state's deer management system, was an incredible 16 percent below Lavigne's expectations! The buck harvest was also down. Explanation? Declining deer numbers? Not so, says Lavigne. With the exception of Northern Aroostook and Eastern Washington Counties, deer populations are at what biologists call "target levels," if not higher. Road kills of deer, which are a proven index of deer populations, are increasing in Maine at an exponential rate of 20 to 30 percent a year. Lavigne attributes last fall's lowered deer kill to uncooperative weather and reduced hunter effort.

So, in keeping with the state's established deer management system, which has worked well, Lavigne wants to sustain a slow- growing deer herd. Look for excellent deer hunting in most of the state this fall.

Applications for Any-Deer permits will be available from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in late June.

Expanded Bow Season

Although a bonus deer has been available to bow hunters the past two years during a few weeks in September, that program has been expanded significantly. Starting this fall, bow hunters with purchased permits may hunt a bonus deer in the designated coastal zones during September, October, November and early December. Talk about expanded hunt opportunities!

Hunting Hours

To the surprise of many, and the delight of some, the Legislative Fish and Wildlife Committee has voted 12-1 to amend Maine's heretofore sacrosanct deer hunting hours. Barring any surprises, it appears that deer hunters next fall will be permitted to hunt a half hour AFTER sunset. For more than 20 years in Maine, the practice of hunting in Maine after sunset - twilight hunting- has been subject to a stiff penalty. Fish and Wildlife folks opposed this change on the grounds of safety. Proponents of the change cited good hunt safety records in neighboring states that allow twilight hunting.

Safety considerations aside, a deer hunt after sunset in Maine has an added dimension for those eager to be on stand during that magical half hour of marginal light.

Another Neat Twist

As if all of the above isn't enough to generate new enthusiasm for anyone who hunts half-heartedly, consider this: for the first time ever in Maine, adults who win any Any-Deer (doe) permit in the summer drawing, may legally transfer their permit to either a juvenile or a senior citizen of their choosing. This is a good idea, the brainstorm of State Sen. Paul Davis of Sangerville.

All of these changes, which tend to be "hunter friendly," are a clear indication that state policymakers have begun to respond to concerns about Maine's other endangered species - the hunter. With new hunters coming on line in this state at one-third the rate of previous generations, their actions are long overdue.

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