Any-deer lottery: the overhaul

For many years now, Maine’s deer herd management system has relied on issuing any-deer permits to hunters as a way to oversee the buck-doe ratio in any given WMD ( wildlife management district).

There is one problem, though — it does not seem to be getting the job done, especially the last few years. There was a time when state deer biologists would issue four any-deer permits in order to reduce the doe numbers by one critter. Recently, these deer managers have had to issue 10 doe permits to cull one doe from the herd.

The hunter is the wild card in this deer-control calculus. Too many Maine deer hunters are keeping their doe permits as an ace in the hole and holding out late into the season for that trophy buck. Fall after fall not enough does are taken in Maine’s deer-rich areas and fall after fall the department has had to issue an increasing number of doe, or any-deer, permits to compensate for buck-holdout hunters. This fall an incredible 59,000 any-deer permits were issued! In some cases, there were more available permits than there were applicants. So, bonus permits were issued in some deer-rich WMDs. In fact, it has gotten so out of hand that in some particular cases, a Superpack license holder could conceivably receive up to five permits!

Clearly, the any-deer permit system needs a thorough overhaul. Through a legislative order, a stakeholder group has been assembled and is conducting meetings this fall and winter to address the issue. No doubt there will be a public input period once the group has drafted a recommendation.

Part of the charge to the stakeholders is as follows: “the stakeholder group should consider recommending changes that will allow the Department to continue to meet deer management objectives while also providing a transparent system that has some predictability and equitable access for hunting opportunities.”

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) is surveying its membership to get feedback that will be fed into the overhaul process. Anyone with suggestions or opinions on how better to manage our state deer population numbers may want to pass them along to Nathan Bieber, the deer research leader in Bangor.

If this situation presents itself as an opportunity to vastly simplify the deer management process, particularly for hunters confused by the complexity of it all, we can only hope that the stakeholder group seizes the day.

A quick glance at any other deer hunting states, Vermont, New Hampshire or Michigan, underscores how intricately complex deer hunting regulations have become. Michigan’s hunting regs, especially when you get into antler point restrictions, are a discouraging tangle of regulatory detail that would leave any Maine buck hunter shaking his head. New Hampshire’s are not that much better.

No wonder there has been a decline in hunting license sales! By their nature, deer hunters are adherents to freedom and unfettered pastimes. Make it too darn complicated or aggravating and some will simply walk away.

For the stakeholders revamping Maine’s deer permit system, we urge them not to get too deep into the weeds and to craft a simple, comprehensible system that respects wishes of the hunter, as well as the future of Maine’s whitetail deer.

Confucius had it right: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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