April 01, 2020

Hunters passing up doe herd > Deer population rising despite a record kill

AUGUSTA – When those attending the Sportsman’s Congress turned their attention to the subject of wildlife, optimism rang through the Elks Lodge in Augusta… until Maine biologist Gerry Lavigne presented the problem at hand. Then good words turned into grumbling.

With the final deer harvest count not due in for another two months, Lavigne is predicting a kill surpassing 35,000, and a buck harvest of more than 20,000, which would be a record. The problem, Lavigne said, is that there were 75,000 antler-less permits available this year, and only 69,000 issued.

The mystery of how to decrease the ever-growing doe population led the group gathered on Friday to talk of cultural mores and the potential for social turmoil.

“We’re talking about Maine tradition,” Lavigne said. “As soon as you go to a bonus deer, you’re making a transition. The Legislature will have a say as to whether it’s socially acceptable [to allow firearm hunters more than one deer],” Lavigne said during the annual meeting, sponsored by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

On the other hand, with so many hunters passing up antler-less permits and passing up does for bucks, the doe herd needs to be curtailed.

“In some areas, we didn’t have any requests,” Lavigne said. “Because the doe quota was not reached, there will be a substantial increase [in the deer population] over last year.”

The matter needs to be resolved before the March deer permit meeting, said Lavigne, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s deer study leader. But based on the suggestions tossed around at the Sportsman’s Congress on Friday, an easy-fix solution is not so simple.

In 1925, the bag limit of one deer of either sex was set statewide, providing Maine with 75 years of a one deer per hunter custom, a near-ancient trend to buck.

A few hunters made the point that every time the DIFW sets new regulations, it is, in essence, breaking with tradition, so why not simply allow hunters more than one deer?

Lavigne reminded those gathered of the potential danger in going too far with bonus-deer permits.

“We value the number of trophy-age bucks in Maine. It’s what makes us stand apart,” he said. “Will this change or that change result in a higher buck kill? We’d like to focus the pressure on antlerless deer and not put pressure on bucks. What is the potential affect of any of these [suggestions] on bucks? There may not be an impact on the coastal strip, but it will have an affect on central Maine.”

Harold “Brownie” Brown, vice chairman of the Advisory Council, proposed a solution that would work toward the future growth of hunting.

“Let [those 16 and under] have the any-deer permits,” Brown said.

Lavigne suggested antlerless-only permits that allowed hunters to take a doe during any season, but making the hunt zone specific.

In the end, no consensus was taken, no votes cast.

“Nothing is being decided right now. We’re just looking for input,” said Ken Elowe, the DIFW director of resource management. “There are lots of ways to do it. The imperative is the bottom line, [which is decreasing the doe population.]”

For the anglers present, biologist John Boland made certain the discussion remained optimistic, which was not difficult for Boland, considering the success he has seen with wild brook trout and the sea-run browns in southern Maine.

A recent study by the DIFW has shown that wild brook trout in Maine are living longer and getting larger because of regulations in 1996 that regulated 334 of Maine’s 1,103 brook-trout lakes.

Over a five-year period, biologists in the Rangeley, Moosehead, Penobscot and Fish River Lakes regions conducted creel surveys on the wild brook trout there and found, among other things, that:

. The new regulations had little impact on the number of brook trout, but increased the proportion of older, larger fish, thus reversing the decline in size and age;

. The average size of trout caught increased by 12.4 percent to an average size of 12.7 inches;

. The brook trout catch rate increased while the average time to catch a legal size trout decreased.

These findings were only a small part of Boland’s news. He spoke at greater length about the success of the sea-run trout program in southern Maine rivers.

A testament to Boland’s heralded report is the fact the new stocking program is featured in this month’s Field & Stream magazine.

“In the 1970s we tried to stock brown trout in the Royal and Ogunquit [rivers]. The brown trout went downhill, so in the mid-80s we discontinued the program in the Royal,” Boland said, recounting the history of the program.

“We regrouped, experimented, looked at different waters. Our fall yearling program with brown trout started in the Ogunquit River and the results have been fantastic.”

Boland said biologists now are experimenting on the Medomak River in Lincoln County and the St. George in Knox, as well as in the lower section of the Kennebec in Augusta.

Whereas 10 years ago it was unheard of to go spin casting or flyfishing in January or March in Maine, Boland said now it is not uncommon to see a dozen spin fishermen and fly fishermen lining some southern Maine rivers in the dead of winter.

“In the Mousam and the Ogunquit, we’ve had great success,” Boland said. “And we’re seeing hold-over fish in the 18-20 inch range. This summer, an 11-pound trout was caught on the Ogunquit.”

Outdoor Calendar

An Advisory Council meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the DIFW in Augusta. On tap for discussion is rule making for the turkey hunt, year-round fishing, as well as 2001 moose-permit allocations, and any-deer permit allocations. It is open to the public.

The Penobscot Fly Fishers will hold their holiday meeting at Miller’s Restaurant in Bangor on Wednesday. Social time begins at 6 p.m. There will be an optional gift swap and collection for area food shelters. Interested anglers, call 862-5666.

The commission to study the needs and opportunities associated with the production of salmonoid sport fish will meet at 10 a.m. today at the State House in Augusta. The meeting is open to the public.

Sugarloaf/USA will host its third annual Blues Festival Friday. And for skiers and riders looking for new equipment, there are Demo Days on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 237-2000.

Deirdre Fleming covers outdoor sports and recreation for the NEWS. She can be reached at 990-8250 or at dfleming@bangordailynews.net.

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