Should Maine Change Its November Deer Season?
By V. Paul Reynolds

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) is fortunate to have Maine's former deer biologist Gerry Lavigne serving as chairman of its Deer Task Force. He is the man for the job! This fall Lavigne's task force completed its recommendations and will work this winter with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to get the recommendations implemented.

Among the list of proposed changes, there is one that has the potential to stir controversy. It is the first recommendation: "To increase the odds of hunting in cooler weather with a better chance of hunting on tracking snow, open the regular firearms season one week later than currently."

Seems simple enough, right? Delay the deer season opener one week and pray for snow. Those of us hunters who traded our longjohns and woolies for shorts and t-shirts during mid-November this year may be ready to eagerly embrace this SAM suggestion. But, like an iceberg, there is more to this proposed change than meets the eye.

CAPTION FOR PHOTO ABOVE: Master Maine Guide Hal Blood of Cedar Ridge Outfitters and also a writer for the Northwood's Sporting Journal is pictured here with a nice whitetail buck.

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For one thing, delaying the opening of the four- week season by one week changes things on the other end. This will change the start and stop dates of the blackpowder season, which lasts two weeks in some Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs). Thus, in some WMDs the blackpowder season will be extending into mid-December. In some areas of the state, depending on weather conditions, the deer will have started yarding up. So there is a resource issue. Hunting deer in wintering areas is for coyotes, not ethical hunters. This is especially applicable in northern Maine. In fact, it is one reason why the blackpowder season in northern Maine only lasts one week, not two.

In talking with northern Maine guides and outfitters, who don't seem to like the idea, I also learned that there is a serious business issue.

Libby Camps operator Matt Libby:" We don't get any non-resident interest in hunting after Thanksgiving. One of the points that help us and the customers is the consistency of the seasons. If it were to change there would be many upset sports who consider the 3rd week to be the one before Thanksgiving and now they would have to come Thanksgiving week because they would be displaced by the 1st and 2nd week people."

In other words, non-resident hunting business, especially in northern Maine, would likely be hurt. The northern Maine outfitters and guides would suffer. Neither would the DIF&W coffers be helped by correspondingly decreasing sales of non-resident hunting licenses.

This proposal bears an uncomfortable resemblance to other so-called "Two-Maine issues." Southern Mainers, no doubt, find the season change proposal compelling. North woods folks, on the other hand, wonder if anyone in Augusta knows what the heck goes on north of Bangor.

According to former state lawmaker Matt Dunlap, the fish and wildlife commissioner already has statutory authority to unilaterally establish season dates based on his own good judgement. Of course, only the most bold and intrepid commissioner would dare make this decision alone, even if conditions warranted. There is a political risk. SAM recognizes this. SAM spokesman George Smith said, "We hope to nudge the commissioner on this issue."

Of course, when you start setting fish and wildlife policy based on previous Maine weather patterns (warming trends) there is an inevitable and inherent danger. The November that we delay the season opener a week will be the November that winter starts a month early.

This is not to take away from the other thoughtful recommendations put forth by SAM's Deer Task Force. But the folks up north have some valid reservations about the suggested season change being advanced by SAM. It would be prudent to revisit this recommendation before it becomes a reality.

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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