Since the beginning of scientific deer herd management in Maine, the data needed to make informed decisions was always slow in coming. The public and the biologists who manage deer were lucky to get November deer harvest figures by early spring.
That has all changed this time around thanks to the Fish and Wildlife Department’s implementation of an automated deer tagging system, an online hookup between the town tagging stations and the policymakers at DIF&W.
As expected, the changeover was not without some issues. Some longtime tagging stations gave it up rather than go digital, while some others were plagued with system breakdowns and other adaptation frustrations. Things are likely to go smoother next fall as the bugs are worked out.
Will it all have been worth it? You bet.
If you are a regional deer biologist, or the research biologist for Maine’s whitetail deer, the more so-called real-time data you have the more likely you are to make informed choices.
History was made on the last day of the firearms season, Nov. 28, when state deer biologist Nathan Bieber was able to know, and share with the public, on the Monday after the season closed that the statewide deer harvest was 30,299! And that the black powder season during the following weeks would likely bring the total tally to 31,000 animals. This would be above the state’s projected harvest and the largest deer take in Maine since 2004.
The day- to-day harvest data underscored the fact that, when it comes to the fall deer harvest, weather is a key factor. The deer harvest started very slow due to rainy, windy Saturdays, but picked up precipitously with an excellent tracking snow. Interestingly, it was back in 1971 that an earlier-than-usual tracking snow was producing such a higher-than-projected deer harvest that the commissioner of fish and wildlife, Maynard Marsh, closed the season early for fear of an excessive harvest.
In a way this access to real-time data appears to be a new frontier for state deer managers. Some implications are obvious; some not so obvious. Marsh’s decision was a controversial one, probably made as a result of anecdotal evidence and expressed concerns of sportsmen groups. Given that situation again, solid numbers and real-time data should help enhance the decision-making process immensely.
Of course, deer are not the only big game animals to be managed and real-time harvest data is sure to improve decision-making on bear and moose as well. Hopefully regional wildlife managers and others have begun to think creatively about the potential new opportunities provided by automated tagging.
If done properly this new tool could not only help biologists manage sustainable big game populations, it would allow for even more opportunities that benefit recreational hunters as well.