Record deer harvest

Somebody said that statistics don’t lie, but statisticians do. And as most of us have learned, statistics can be used or misused to mislead.

When it comes to game harvest numbers and the popularity of recreational big game hunting, we need to approach cautiously in drawing conclusions.

On the national level, there has been a longstanding consensus — backed by accumulated statistics — that the sport of hunting is not as popular as it once was. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were about 17 million licensed hunters in the U.S. in the 1980s. Today, forty years later, there are an estimated 15 million licensed hunters.

What’s going on? Many theories abound as to the cause in the decline of hunters. Aging demographics. Young people hooked on digital pastimes. Changes in our culture that have caused negative public attitudes about hunting.

Interestingly enough, both Maine and Vermont are generating recent anomalous statistics when it comes to numbers of hunters and annual deer harvests. Vermont has seen a 20 percent increase in hunting license sales the past few years. And in Maine, there has been at least a 10 percent increase in hunting license sales the past couple of years.
What is behind this spike in recreational hunting in these states? The best guess is that the COVID era and rising meat prices may be behind it all, as more people are attracted to nature’s grocery store, to the fresh air, the exercise and the inherent social distancing that is part and parcel of recreational hunting. Milder winters and an increase in Maine’s deer numbers also must be included in the calculus.

This season’s final deer harvest figure is over 38,000. That number, according to Bangor Daily News outdoor writer Pete Warner, represents a near-record deer harvest that is a 50-year high! As deer biologist Nathan Bieber points out in Warner’s article, these superlatives are explained by a combination of things: mainly a lot of deer, an inordinate number of doe permits and a lot of hunters.

All of this is good news, not the least of which is the enhanced license revenues (more than $7 million) made available to IF&W for its deer management programs, including the newly enacted program for purchasing and protecting in perpetuity major deer wintering areas in the Big Woods.

Success breeds success. With so many resident and nonresident deer hunters putting venison in the freezer, it is likely that the comeback of recreational big game hunting in Maine is not about to wane anytime soon.

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

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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