There’s been a fair amount of discussion lately about the concept of antler-point restrictions or APRs, and whether they’d be a good fit for Maine. Proponents see how well they’ve worked in other states and would like to experience similar results at home. Others, discouraged with the dismal state of our deer herd, are simply looking for options. Meanwhile, a fair number of hunters aren’t particularly fond of the idea and are content with the status quo. There are good points on both sides of the argument.

As the name implies, APRs require that a buck’s rack have a specified minimum number of antler points before it can be harvested. Various configurations have been tried and most have been successful at improving the age structure of buck populations, simultaneously increasing the number of quality bucks available for harvest.

One of the more publicized and controversial APR implementations occurred in Pennsylvania, where as much as 90 percent of the annual buck harvest consisted of yearlings.

The state was experiencing an ecosystem crisis. Too many deer on the land meant little if any hardwood regeneration on public and private forest land. Many rare indigenous plants were becoming rarer and in some cases were all but removed from the landscape. Habitat degradation was also threatening other species of birds and mammals that require dense understory growth.

Something had to be done, and that something was to kill more deer. That’s best accomplished by removing more females from the population, a concept many hunters weren’t happy with. APRs were offered more as a consolation than the primary management objective.

That suggests one reason why now might be a good time for Maine to at least consider APRs. We’re trying to grow our herd in most if not all of the state. The deer population has been devastated by predators, insufficient protection of winter habitat and severe winter conditions. Even in many areas of the expanded archery zone, deer numbers are down; so much so that one community petitioned the state to be removed from the zone. Meanwhile, Maine ranks first in the nation in terms of the proportion of yearlings in the buck harvest.

Protecting most of an entire age class of bucks – yearlings – would have the immediate effect of more deer on the land. In subsequent years, it would mean more huntable bucks, which is where most of the hunting pressure is directed.

Some APR opponents make a logical argument that the benefits would not be as great as expected. You can’t stockpile deer. Some will die from predation, disease and interspecific combat. A basic population model projects that only 8 percent of any protected yearling group would reach maturity, at age 4. That doesn’t seem like a good payback on the investment of what would likely be at least a 10 percent reduction in annual buck harvest.

However, that argument makes the spurious assumption that hunters will wait for a deer to reach maturity. While that’s often the goal of private landowners practicing quality deer management, it’s rarely the case in the general hunting population. A Maine buck 2 years old or older would, with little exception, meet minimum APRs. More importantly, it would also meet most hunters’ definition of a trophy. And there would be far more of them available after the first season of APRs.

There are other, more sound objections to APRs. A fair number of hunters simply want to shoot a deer, and they don’t care what if any antlers it sports. APRs would take away a considerable amount of opportunity, particularly for those who aren’t fortunate enough to be selected for an any-deer permit. In a state where shot opportunities are already so few and far between, it would he hard to justify any measure that would reduce them. But sustaining more deer could lead to more any-deer permits, assuaging those who hunt for meat and not antlers.

APRs would also require a change in the way many folks hunt. Traditional methods often involve slipping along through the dense brush, anticipating a brief shot opportunity. The time it takes to determine if a buck meets minimum APRs would, in many cases, be enough to allow its quick escape. Those who sit on the ground or in treestands would have more time and opportunity to size up their quarry, but even they might miss an occasional opportunity.

Hunters can already practice voluntary restraint, and some do, imposing personal point or age restrictions. However, this practice provides little benefit outside of large tracts of land with tightly limited access. Much of Maine’s private land is fairly accessible, which means that any buck you pass up is likely to be shot by someone else.

There was enough interest in the concept that lawmakers introduced two similar bills concerning APRs in the last legislative session. The Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recommended that one ought not to pass. The second was amended, directing the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to examine the use of an APR system to increase the age, size and number of antlered deer in Maine. It received a positive recommendation and was passed by the House and Senate but was vetoed by the governor. For now, we’ll remain with the status quo, but the topic of APRs has been elevated to a level where it should and likely will be included in any further discussions on the management of Maine’s deer herd.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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