White tailed deer

HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL WHITE-TAILED DEER HUNT IN MAINE

While Maine may have a fairly low number of whitetail deer compared to other states like those in the Midwest, the seemingly never-ending forests give big bucks plenty of places to hide and grow to trophy sizes. This post will share tips and tricks to help you harvest a mature buck in Maine.

Whitetails and the State of Maine

White tailed deer

The state of Maine has an estimated whitetail herd population that number of around 300,000. Compared to other states like Wisconsin, which leads all states in the number of record whitetails booked and sports a population estimated at 1.5 million, you might be inclined to think that Maine doesn’t have the best whitetail hunting opportunities, but this is not the case.

Maine may have a smaller whitetail population than the agricultural breadbasket states. Still, the state of Maine is predominantly composed of forests, and the sheer number of forests allows deer to have countless safe havens to call home and hide from hunters.

The number of hunters actively pursuing whitetails in Maine is also lower than in the Midwest, with an average of 200,000 licenses issued yearly. The amount of deer harvested yearly is far less.

The deer population numbers in Maine took a pretty bad hit in the late 2000’s, but not to worry, as the numbers have been a slow and steady climb since that time, and the combination of mild winters and good mast crop growth from farmers has seen it continuing to improve.

The lower population of deer and hunters combined with the densely forested environment has given birth to a pretty good number of trophy bucks, and the number of bucks weighing in at 200 pounds might surprise you.

Where to Hunt in Maine

The best place to hunt in Maine is the northern counties, these counties provide the best chances at harvesting a trophy whitetail.

The counties of Hancock, Aroostook, Piscataquis, Waldo, Washington, and Penobscot all have a reputation for harboring giant bucks.

Maine is fairly unique compared to other states in that it has a unique tradition of open access to land, which leads to easy access for hunters, and accessing good private land has become increasingly difficult for hunters in other states.

Even with this open-access policy, you will still need to knock on someone’s door or make a phone call. It would still be a good idea to check in with the landowners from time to time, and in doing so, you might even get some golden nuggets of information on hunting spots, big buck sightings, and deer movement.

Know the Seasons and Regulations

The archery season in Maine runs from October 1st to the 28th with extended archery seasons running from September 10th to December 10th in designated areas.

Gun hunting runs from October 31st to November 26th, the Muzzleloader season from November 28th to December 3rd, and from December 5th to the 10th in designated areas only.

The Stand is King

Tree stand

Tree stands are nothing new to hunters and are used predominantly everywhere. Still, in places like the Midwest and the south, ground blind hunting has become increasingly popular as an option to harvest trophy bucks.

In Maine, the treestand is still your best bet, and due to the state being blanketed in forests, there aren’t any issues with finding a suitable tree to hang a stand within range of trails or food sources.

Due to the topography in many parts of the state, the wind can tend to swirl and become unpredictable, and getting high off of the ground in a tree stand can help mitigate the issue of your scent swirling through your hunting area by getting it up and above the noses of the deer.

Study Your Hunting Area

Studying aerial photos of the areas you intend to hunt can be key to finding the best locations to hang a stand, and it will give you a great idea of where a trophy buck might be bedding and feeding, along with likely travel corridors.

Studying your hunting area via a birds-eye view has never been easier with modern technology, and you might be surprised to see that you might be able to spot deer trails using something as simple as google maps.

Having a solid understanding of the area will help you in several ways, and is not studying topographic maps and satellite images are not something that a serious hunter should skip.

Hunters with hunting equipment going away through rural forest at sunrise during hunting season in countryside

Plan you Moves

Many hunters fail at correctly approaching their stands when hunting during the morning or afternoon.

How you approach your stand depends on a few factors, but the wind is the most important factor to consider. The wind might make a particular tree stand inaccessible on a given day, and while you can choose to ignore the wind, doing so risks spooking all the deer in the area.

Be sure when you are walking to or from your stand, that you do so in a direction where the wind is blowing away from crucial areas like bedding areas or food sources. How you enter the woods to sit might also need to be adjusted based on the time of day.

Avoid Tree Stand Burn Out

Hunting from the same stand too often will be detrimental to your trophy buck harvesting cause.

This is known as “burning out a stand” and happens when you hunt a tree stand several times a week. You can try as hard as you want to keep the evidence of your presence as low as possible, but deer have mind-boggling senses and will know if a human is repeatedly intruding into their backyard.

As hunters, we pattern deer, their behavior, and their daily movements as best we can, and if you constantly hunt from the same tree stand, the deer will be able to pattern you, and they will avoid the areas around your stand until they feel you are no longer visiting it regularly.

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Put Your Time In

Hunting trophy whitetails is a serious challenge and takes due diligence and time no matter the location, but this is more so the case when hunting in the state of Maine.

It will take patience to harvest a trophy in the state due to the lower numbers and the vastness of the forests, but you know what they say, the harder you work for something, the sweeter the success is.

Be Safe

There’s a lot of nothing in Maine, particularly the northern half of the state, and if you are unfamiliar with the area that you will be hunting, you should have a game plan for safety reasons.

You could easily get lost on the many winding logging roads that appear as if they lead to nowhere, and before you leave to hunt, you should let someone know the exact areas you intend to hunt and when you are expected to be back.

Letting a family member or friend know where you will be is not only a good idea in the event you get lost but also if you were to injure yourself by twisting an ankle or having a mishap with your tree stand.

You should also have a minimal amount of survival gear with you, such as a first aid kit, thermal blanket, lighter, and other items that can help in the event that you get lost or injured.

In the modern age with smartphones and google maps, getting lost is less of an issue and something that we don’t worry about as much as we used to. Still, phone batteries have a tendency to run out, and they always seem to do so at the worst possible time, and this is why you shouldn’t rely solely on technology because it is prone to failure, and back up plans and gear is necessary.

More to Offer

Maine has more to offer than whitetails and is one of the best destinations in the United States to harvest a big moose.

Along with moose, black bear hunting can be very good do to the sheer amount of forested land that the bears have to roam around in.

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Due to being a far northern state, the ruffed grouse hunting is some of the best in the country and is right up there with other legendary grouse hunting states like those of the Great Lakes Region.

Final Thoughts

If you are moving to the state of Maine and want to know your options when it comes to whitetails, or if you are thinking of traveling to hunt in the state, be sure to do your research and due diligence on the regulations and on how to hunt in the state.

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.