Deer

A Look at Maine’s White-tailed Deer Population for 2022

Maine is home to one of the largest subspecies of White-tailed deer. The whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) may be found across the United States. They are the most easily identified deer species in the United States. This species of deer is famous for its whitetail. Bucks mature at age five and may grow to record live weights of about 400 lbs. They are also known for their tan and brown coats.

Maine is close to the northern limit of the white-tailed deer’s range. White-tailed deer in Maine mostly inhabit forest areas, marshes, reverting farms, and active farms as sources of food and cover. The greatest and most abundant feed is found in wetlands, reverting and active agriculture, and forest areas with little or no canopy closure. Presently, 94% of Maine—excluding the state’s city areas regarded as a deer habitat. In fact, deer are already present in some of Maine’s developed areas. Wintering habitat is very restricted, accounting for approximately 2 to 25% of the land in various segments of the state. In Maine, deer’s summer home ranges typically range from 500 to 600 acres, but they may even be as large as 2,000 acres. Depending on the accessibility and quality of the winter range, deer can travel anywhere from less than a mile to more than 25 miles between their summer and winter ranges.

Deer in the winter
A wild deer in a national park on a cold winter’s day

White Tail Deer Population

In mid-2022, the authorities estimated 300,000 to 320,000 deer, saying that the state’s environment could accommodate more of them. According to Nathan Bieber (a biologist working for The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife), the deer population in Maine now is probably comparable to what it was in the 1990s.

In 2021, around 290,000 were estimated to be present in Maine. There was a considerable increase in the deer hunting licenses during the doe hunting season 2021-22. Regulated hunting harvests provide for a significant portion of deer management. The year 2021 turned out to be a record year for deer hunting, with one of the largest harvests in more than 50 years. A warm winter and few doe harvests led to a buck-to-doe ratio of roughly 2.5 to 1, which resulted in a state estimate of 300,000 deer in the spring of 2020.

White-tailed deer
A close up shot of a white tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the woods.

How population has changed over time?

The white-tailed deer population in Maine has experienced boom and bust cycles. According to anecdotes, the state’s deer population did not exist in significant numbers before the advent of European colonists in the early 16th century. Deer may only have been able to survive in isolated areas inland and along the southern coast due to hard winters, intact predator ecology, and probably a lack of sufficient early vegetative growth (Banasiak 1964). However, with European colonization, immigrants began to clean the area. Small-scale logging activities stimulated the growth of underbrush, providing white-tailed deer with an optimal balance of feed and cover. Deer ranges grew and became more widespread in central and northern Maine as a result of logging activities. Later, in the nineteenth century, the extinction of wolves and cougars in Maine allowed deer to grow and rise in population essentially unaffected by predation. Despite their greater presence, deer populations nonetheless fluctuated in response to harsh winters and widespread incidents  (like fires )that significantly altered their habitat.

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Let us have a look at the population changes in Maine in Figure 1. It shows the population of white-tailed deer population over several years. This is taken from the data provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) in the 2017 Big Game Management Plan. MDIFW started estimating the abundance of White-tailed deer in the 1950s which is why exact estimates for the period before the 1950s are not available.

Figure 1: Population estimate of White-tailed deer in Maine

We can see that population of White-tailed deer has fluctuated throughout history.

 The state saw its lowest levels of deer abundance during the 1960s. The population decreased to around 141,000 as a result of harsh winters, coyote colonization, the loss of wintering habitat, and intensified hunting pressure.

Beginning in the 1970s, a spruce budworm outbreak disrupted deer overwintering habitat by causing landscape-level die-offs of mature softwood stands, followed by salvage harvests. Deer summer habitat expanded as a result of the increasing loss of mature softwood. However, the number of deer wintering sites reduced, especially in the state’s northern portion, where they are most important.

J.W. Sewell Company predicted in their 1983 Spruce-Fir Wood Availability-Demand Analysis that the supply of mature softwood will continue to fall until 2010 owing to insect mortality, salvage logging, and satisfying the commercial needs for spruce-fir products. That prediction has come true. These causes collectively have reduced the amount and quality of deer wintering sites, increasing the likelihood that deer would perish during hard winters. Deer populations drastically decreased, especially in northern Maine, as a direct result of the sharp fall of mature spruce-fir forest acres and multiple harsh winters.

It was discovered through several modifications of its deer management system that restricting the harvest of does was the best strategy to limit the expansion of Maine’s deer population. Since it was established in 1986, the Any-deer permit (ADP) system has given MDIFW a way to control doe harvests while also increasing hunting opportunities for sportsmen in Maine. Since the implementation of the ADP system, doe harvests have routinely fallen between 5% and 10%, or less, of the Department’s antlerless harvest targets.

In order to keep the population from outpacing the capacity of Maine’s deer wintering areas (DWAs), the state created population targets that called for managing the deer to 50%–60% of that capacity. The quantity of winter habitat would need to be raised to around 8% to 10% of Maine’s terrain in order to achieve the public’s population targets.

The deer population in Maine had gradual growth after the die-off in the 1970s and continued to do so into the late 1980s. Demand for the resource increased despite a modest recovery in the deer population.  This resulted in a slew of new management measures and policies aimed at accelerating the expansion of Maine’s deer population. The regulatory regime that restricted doe hunting, together with a string of warm winters, served as the driving forces behind Maine’s deer population’s rapid rise through the late 1980s and early 1990s. The number of deer in Maine reached an approximately all-time high of 331,000 during this period. The majority of the increase took place in the state’s southern tier.

A study was conducted by Dumont et al. 2000, about the effect of harsh winters on two adjacent populations of the deer in northeastern range of its occurrence. The study was conducted from 1994 to 1996. They found a decline in population by harsh winters which was further declined due to coyote predation as well. They found that older deer and fawns were more severely harmed by starvation and predation, although deaths due to collisions seemed to be nonselective. The majority of cases of famine happened after the beginning of March when bodily stores were depleted. They concluded that in the studied area deer abundance was controlled by winter forage competition.

Population Management

For the deer population, harvest, or hunter success rates, MDIFW did not establish any concrete targets or goals before 1975. The majority of regulation acts were brought about by the Legislature as a response to harsh winters or alleged regional reductions in deer abundance. Between 1975 and 1985, MDIFW started planning for deer, which included establishing goals and objectives with broad public support. In some locations, this included attempting to regulate deer populations to certain deer densities.

Since a new Big Game Management Plan was recently put into effect, the Department has given up trying to regulate deer populations to predetermined levels. That strategy failed to fully take into consideration a number of other crucial factors in managing the deer population, such as preserving animal health, ensuring that there are enough deer in society, minimizing the negative effects of an overabundance of deer, and so forth. In Maine, deer management is to keep deer populations at levels that are both sustainable with available habitat and socially acceptable. The Department uses a range of small-scale management strategies in locations where deer numbers are too high or where deer are seriously harming the habitat to seek and solve the issues.

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Deer wintering habitat must be protected and expanded in order to boost deer populations in Maine’s northern and eastern forest areas. In the past, protecting deer wintering habitat required the cooperation of landowners, which wasn’t always available. To maintain manageable deer populations across Maine, authorities will have to enhance access to the property for hunting through effective landowner relations programs.

References

Dumont, A., Crête, M., Ouellet, J. P., Huot, J., & Lamoureux, J. (2000). Population dynamics of northern white-tailed deer during mild winters: evidence of regulation by food competition. Canadian Journal of Zoology78(5), 764-776.

Banasiak, C.F. (1964). Deer in Maine. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game, Game Division Bulletin 6, 163 pp

Irland, L. C. (1988). The spruce budworm outbreak in Maine in the 1970’s: assessments and directions for the future. Bulletin/Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Maine: 1983 (USA).

Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. 2017. 2017 Big Game Management Plan. Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Augusta, ME. 97pp.

Thinking about bird hunting!? Hunt Ruffed Grouse in Maine

While the state of Maine is most incredible for many reasons, many hunters regard it as one of the greatest places in the country to hunt for ruffed grouse. These little birds are one of the most sought-after upland bird species in the country, and many wing shooters will travel to the best hunting locations every year to find them. One of these includes the state of Maine! 

Rapala Knives_234x60

The Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed grouse are one of the most plentiful and widely distributed game birds on the continent. They are on the smaller size when it comes to most grouse species, and range in weight from 16 to 25 ounces. They are beautiful birds that have many markings and colors in their feathers that help them to better blend in with their preferred habitat. Unlike other bird species, ruffed grouse are monomorphic. This means that both genders, male and female that have lost their juvenile plumage and colors, look alike. 

Ruffed grouse eat a variety of different things, including leaves, fruits, and insects. During the winter when snow is on the ground, they will eat things such as flower buds and catkins. Ruffed grouse will live an average of 3 years, although some birds can live up to 7 years. During the spring, male ruffed grouse will become more territorial of their area and start to “drum.” This is a display that helps them to ward off other males and attract females. 

Habitat and Locations

Ruffed grouse can be found throughout almost all of the state of Maine, although in various densities. The highest densities tend to be found in transition areas where thick forests and developed fields and farmlands meet. Cleared land and fires can create excellent grouse habitat, as it provides mixed-age aspen (a favorite of ruffed grouse). These types of areas provide everything that the grouse need to live, including food, shelter, and enough space to drum. Because ruffed grouse have such a small home range, all of these requirements should be found within a small area of around 30 acres or less. This can provide key clues to finding grouse while out hunting. 

Equipment and Gear

Hunter aiming rifle while hunting birds with Irish Red Setter dog In woods

The great thing about hunting ruffed grouse is that you do not need a ton of new or expensive gear to have a successful day in the woods. In fact, a good day of grouse hunting should only require things like a blaze orange vest, extra food and water, a navigation device (GPS), a shotgun, tough pants, long sleeve shirt, and some waterproof boots. A jacket and thicker clothing might also be a good idea if the weather is cold. 

Almost any shotgun you already own is probably more than adequate for grouse hunting. The most popular 20 and 12-gauge shotguns are some of the most widely seen, but even the 28 gauge and 410 can be used. Pair this with an open or improved choke as grouse shots are usually at close range, and size #6 or #7 shells are a great option. 

Many ruffed grouse hunters will often choose to hunt with a dog. But, unlike other bird species such as pheasants, ruffed grouse hunting can be achieved very successfully without a dog if you don’t have one. While almost any breed of dog can be taught and trained to hunt for grouse, most any sporting breed or pointers make for the best grouse dogs and provide excellent companionship while out in the woods. 

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Maine Ruffed Grouse Season and Limits

The ruffed grouse season generally runs from the third week of September until December 31st of every year. There is a bag limit of four birds per day, with the possession of eight birds at any time. You will need to purchase a hunting license before you are able to hunt ruffed grouse in Maine, and this can be done either at a hunting license dealer found around the state, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife office, or online at their website (https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting-trapping/hunting/licenses-permits.html).

Tips and Tricks

In order to best hunt ruffed grouse, you will first need to locate the best cover and food sources that the birds are using. This will ensure that there are birds nearby to hunt. From there, your job is to now flush the birds out in order to get a clear shot at them. Here are a few simple tips to help to get you started when it comes to hunting ruffed grouse! 

Hunt early/late – Ruffed grouse tend to be very inactive during the middle of the day. The best time to hunt for them is the early morning and late into the afternoons. This is when they will move around to look for food, and when they are the most vulnerable. 

Cover more ground – Although ruffed grouse live in relatively small areas, you may still need to cover plenty of ground in order to find them. Lace-up a comfortable pair of boots and don’t be afraid of covering plenty of ground! 

Be ready and quick – When ruffed grouse get flushed, they are quick and explosive. Always have your gun at the ready and try to be as quick as possible when you see or hear them. You may not get another opportunity after you flush them so always be ready and move as quick as possible to get a shot. 

Final Thoughts

Young hunter boy sit with his father in a truck tailgate.

The ruffed grouse is a favorite animal to hunt in Maine for many people, and it’s easy to see why. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of these amazing little birds and know where to find them and how to better hunt them. With the abundance of habitat and their excellent numbers, there are few things as enjoyable as a ruffed grouse hunt in this amazing state! 

Fly Fishing for Beginners in Maine

Fly fishing can seem a little confusing for beginners, as it is very different from other methods of traditional fishing. Luckily the state of Maine has plenty of great places to go in order to practice and catch a lot of fish. If you are just starting out or want to experience some of the best fly fishing waters in Maine, then you have come to the right place! 

Fly fishing in the river

One of the first things you will need to do is gather up all of the right equipment to get started on your fly fishing adventure. A good pair of waders, a fly rod, fly line, a catch net, a tool kit, and of course, some flies and lures. Once you have the basics covered, you can start to assemble your gear kit and start familiarizing yourself with everything. This will also give you a good opportunity to get some practice in before heading out! 

Learning to tie some basic knots will also go a long way to help you catch fish. Some popular knots that are important to know include the surgeon’s knot, clinch, and the improved clinch knot. You should also learn the difference between these knots and what each one works best for. 

Once you have assembled and prepared your gear, you are probably ready to hit the water! Maine is a beautiful state with many places to fish. There are excellent lakes, rivers, and streams in nearly every corner of the state that you could head to, but there are a few that seem to stand out when it comes to fly fishing. These are all great options, especially when it comes to beginners! 

The first is the Kennebec River. This river is a fly fishing hotspot thanks to its very consistent flows and the many dams across the state. You will find almost 170 miles of water along this river, but the upper portion tends to be the best for fly fishing. In this river, you can find some amazing brook trout fishing, as well as salmon, rainbow trout, and brown trout. For a real treat, head to the Moosehead Lake area. Not only is it beautiful and a great place for beginner fly anglers to fish, but you will find big landlocked salmon, brook trout, and lake trout. 

Another great area is the Penobscot River. This is Maine’s largest river and runs about 370 miles long. In these waters, fly anglers can expect to find brook trout, salmon, warm water species like bass, and even some stripers. While it can be a difficult river to wade in if you have a kayak or a boat you can be in some of the best fishing waters in the state. Finding the deeper pools and holes will lead you to bigger fish, and generally less competition from other anglers as well. 

If you are looking for a river with a little more access and easier wading, then the Roach River is also a great choice. This river starts at First Roach Pond and flows into Spencer Bay on Moosehead Lake. The 6.5-mile stretch is fly fishing only, making it a great place for anglers of any skill level. You will find plenty of salmon and brook trout, and beginner fly anglers should have no problem increasing their skills in this river. 

Once you find where you want to go fishing, you must then find the right locations to start throwing your line. Specific locations on the river will be home to certain types and sizes of fish. Where and how you cast will determine your success while fly fishing, so some care must be taken to your approach. Walk slowly and quietly along the river while searching for potential areas, so as to not spook the fish.

Rear View Of Man Fly Fishing At River Against Rock Formations

Look for different riffles and rapids in the water. Fish will often be in groups in areas just below these sped-up sections of water as they lie in wait for the water to bring them food. You should also look for rocks, logs, and other obstructions in the water, especially if they are surrounded by fast-moving currents. Fish will hide behind these objects to stay out of the faster water and conserve their energy while still waiting for the currents to bring them food as it drifts down. Lastly, deep pools can also be productive, especially in warmer weather. 

Finding the right fishing spot is only half of the battle, however. Choosing the right fly or streamer can make or break your fishing trip. As a general rule of thumb, try to match your fly to whatever food sources you are seeing in the area. This method of “matching the hatch” will imitate the fish’s natural food and will increase your odds of getting a good strike. Cast these flies upstream of where you suspect the fish are hiding, and allow them to gently float down to the fish that are waiting. If you do not get a strike, try again at a slightly different angle. 

Caucasian Men in His 30s Fly Fishing in a River in Sunny Summer Day.

As you fish, remember to remain aware of your surroundings. It is easy to get lost in the amazing beauty of the outdoors or caught up in the excitement of catching a fish. Safety is always a priority when in the outdoors. The last thing that you want to do is slip and fall in slippery conditions or be caught in fluctuating water levels. Remain cautious of the river or water where you are fishing and remind yourself to stay aware of your surroundings. But, when all is said and done, just remember to have fun and be patient with yourself. 

Fly fishing can be a little challenging at first, but with enough practice and patience, anyone can become a pro. Maine is an amazing state with so many great opportunities to go fly fishing. Even as a beginner, you are sure to have some success and at the very least will enjoy your time while out in the outdoors! 

Rainbow trout