"The later season allowed hunters more time to hunt during the peak of the rut, and for the first time in four years the weather was very favorable. The weather was cool with the exception of one week, and there was tracking snow in just about every part of the state at some point in the season," said Gerry Lavigne, Deer Biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, "We may even come close to our record buck kill of two years ago."
"Statewide, hunters were seeing more deer compared to last year," said Lavigne, "and we had a very good kill of mature bucks." Last year, hunters killed 27,769 deer. In 2000, 36,885 deer were killed, including a record of 21,422 bucks.
Lavigne also noted that yearling bucks (bucks born during the spring of 2001) had the best antler development he had seen in his 27-year career, and that was true in most parts of the state. Observations from other IFW biologists included yearling bucks with antlers that had six to eight points, and one yearling buck that even had 10 points on its antlers. One particularly large fawn dressed out at 100 pounds, normal fawn weights average around 65 pounds. Biologists also noted good physical development and excellent fat accumulation on does and fawns, which means they are well prepared for the rigors of winter.
However, the severity of the 2001 winter could still be measured in the low number of two and a half year old bucks, as well as diminished antler development and size on these deer.
"What a difference a year makes. The winter of 2002, one of the easiest for deer in the past 30 years, was as remarkable for its favorable impacts on deer populations as the harsh 2001 winter for its severity," Lavigne noted. "Deer survival this past winter was unusually good statewide, resulting in greater availability of fawns and yearlings as well as mature (4 to 15 year old) bucks. Mature bucks are second only to fawns in vulnerability to winter mortality."
Although the 2002 winter helped, deer populations in Northern Maine, the Western Mountains region and Downeast have not fully recovered the losses they sustained during 2001. Deer populations in central and southern Maine remain abundant.
The harvest projection is based upon the number of deer that IFW wildlife biologists have sampled this season. It is done through comparing numbers to past years, and determining similarities. This year, biologists sampled nearly 8,000 deer that were killed by hunters. Biologists sample deer at meat cutters, sporting camps, registration stations and hunter camps.
"Hunters also were using their any deer permits and antlerless permits to take does, they were not holding on to them as in past years," said Lavigne, "and with that number of does taken, it shows that we are beginning to get a handle on deer population growth in some areas." Lavigne noted if this is a normal winter, there could be very liberal allocation of any deer permits once again. A detailed analysis of the 2002 deer season will be available in March, after all deer registrations are processed.
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