April 05, 2020
Sports Column

Traditions rekindled by opening-day rituals

In rural hamlets, unorganized territories, and urban centers, lights will go on a little earlier than normal this morning, the daily bustle beginning under the cover of darkness.

It’s opening day.

If you’re among those asking “Opening day for what?” you probably don’t own much blaze orange, and your wool pants are more likely to be banker gray than hunter green.

Yes, many Mainers grew up deer hunting. Many more – like me – discovered the sport later in life and grew to love it (whether we’ve ever actually shot a deer or not). There are also thousands of Mainers who won’t be among us this morning, nor any other fall morning, as we take part in a grand tradition that stretches across cultural, gender, and economic lines.

Rich or poor, city guy or country girl, the deer don’t care a whit. And neither do we.

This morning, hunters will hop out of snug beds at deer camp, shuffle across cold plywood floors, fire up the coffee pot, turn on the gaslights, and rekindle the warming fire … if, that is, another buddy didn’t toss a log in the stove while answering nature’s midnight call.

We’ll eat well – no telling, really, when we’ll be back for lunch – and head into the woods, to our favorite opening-day spots.

Yours is a rock not far from the spot your uncle shot his big buck back in ’75. Mine is a well-appointed stand in a tree that looks promising … but may turn out to be just another quiet place to watch the final leaves of autumn flutter to the forest floor.

Most of us won’t bag our deer this year. That’s just the way it goes. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have success.

We’ll see things we’ve never seen … or things we look forward to seeing each autumn.

We’ll spend time with family or friends, toss jokes at each other, and learn to sleep in cabins filled with snoring, smelly guys … just like us.

For the next four weeks, we’ll sit when we have to, walk when we want to, and hope for the best.

By the time you read this, many of us will already be hard at work (or so we’ll tell each other) deep in the woods of our home state.

Be safe. Hunt smart. Have fun.

It’s opening day.

Deer season by the numbers

According to the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the southern and central parts of the state have more deer than other areas, but the biggest bucks live in western, northern, and eastern Maine.

DIF&W biologists have estimated this year’s deer harvest will be about 29,400, should normal hunting pressure and weather prevail.

The total deer harvest in each of the past 10 deer seasons:

2005: 28,148

2004: 30,926

2003: 30,313

2002: 38,153

2001: 27,769

2000: 36,885

1999: 31,473

1998: 28,241

1997: 31,152

1996: 28,375

Not every hunter will be required to shoot a buck. The DIF&W issued 67,725 any-deer permits, which allow a hunter to shoot a deer of either sex in certain specified Wildlife Management Districts.

The department estimated that the state’s wintering deer population was 245,000.

Deer and the economy

The yearly deer hunt is big business in Maine, as a study showed eight years ago.

The DIF&W cites a 1998 economic impact study conducted by the Department of Resource Economics and Policy at the University of Maine in asserting that more than 200,000 hunters who take part in Maine hunts generated $453.9 million in economic activity.

According to the study, $329.9 million comes from direct retail sales, and $129.9 million in household income is generated. Hunting supports 6,440 jobs statewide.

DIF&W seeks information

If you’re a deer hunter, the state is interested in your experiences afield this fall. The DIF&W has mailed deer hunter surveys to some hunters, and completing the survey will help the state in its management programs.

The survey asks hunters to record the number of days hunted, as well as how many deer and moose are seen.

Data from the surveys will also help better estimate the size of the deer herd and determine deer and moose population trends.

CWD still on the radar

Deer hunters across the nation have been paying close attention in recent years to the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease in the herds of some states, including New York and West Virginia.

CWD has yet to show up in Maine’s herd, and the DIF&W is working to keep it that way.

Among the steps the DIF&W has taken: It is now illegal for hunters who kill an elk, deer, or moose in another state or province to transport any carcass parts that pose a CWD risk back to the state.

Hunters can return with only boned-out meat, hardened antlers with or without the skull cap, hides without the head portion, and finished taxidermy mounts, the DIF&W says.

Cervids can be transported through the state if they are destined for other states, provinces, or countries, as long as transportation takes place without undue delay, uses the most direct route available, and carcasses or parts are carried in a leakproof fashion that prevents exposure to the environment.

For more information on CWD precautions, go to www.mefishwildlife.com.

In addition, state wildlife officials will once again collect samples from the Maine deer population to test for CWD.

The DIF&W says it plans to collect 750 samples from hunter-killed deer throughout the state. Most samples – 450 is the plan – will be taken from the 120 towns that have deer farms or deer-wintering areas.

Another 300 samples will be taken from the other 830 towns in the state.

All of last year’s samples tested negative for CWD.

A few deer hunting tips

Finally, a few deer hunting tips that the DIF&W has offered in order to make sure your hunt is safe:

. Be sure someone knows where you’re headed, and when you’ll return.

. Carry emergency survival gear, including a flashlight, a map and compass, matches, and water.

. Stop periodically to eat and rehydrate.

. Wear two pieces of hunter orange in good condition.

. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

. Always keep the muzzle of your firearm pointed in a safe direction.

. Unload your firearm before entering a dwelling, before entering a vehicle, or before storing the firearm.

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.net or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.

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