By CLARKE CANFIELD | Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — This fall's deer hunt is expected to be the best in six years as the Maine deer population continues to rebound from severe winters that decimated the herd.
Biologists are expecting hunters to kill 25,000 to 26,000 deer this year. If that happens, it'll be the most bountiful harvest since 2007, when hunters bagged nearly 29,000 animals.
About a third of Maine's deer population was wiped out with the extreme cold and deep snow packs during the winters of 2008 and 2009. But following a string of mild winters, the population has now bounced back to pre-2008 levels, said Kyle Ravana, the state's deer biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
People across the state are reporting increased deer sightings, setting the stage for what should be a productive firearms hunting season, which began Saturday for residents and starts Monday for out-of-staters. The season ends Nov. 30.
"Now that we're four or five years out of those severe winters, the population has bounced back. We're looking at good hunting this year," Ravana said.
The white-tailed deer is Maine's flagship game animal, drawing tens of thousands of hunters to the woods each year and pumping millions of dollars into the state economy.
Maine has an estimated 200,000 deer, but their population is concentrated in southern and central sections of the state.
It's important to restore their numbers in western, northern and eastern Maine, said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine. The herds in those regions are improving, but they're still thin.
When Trahan was young, northern Maine had a reputation as a first-rate area for trophy bucks, and hunting was an economic driver for the region. That's no longer the case.
"Things are looking better, but we're not going to be satisfied until the population numbers are healthy statewide," he said.
There's reason for optimism, Ravana said.
The northern Maine buck harvest increased 78 percent from 2011 to 2012, and the deer population in southern Maine is large enough that the department aims to stabilize, not grow, its numbers. Last year's statewide deer kill increased 14 percent over 2011.
"And coming off another mild winter, we're expecting another bump up in the harvest again," Ravana said.