Deer hunters were warned by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on Oct. 28 — Youth Hunting Day — to be wary of deer ticks. Yes, this is a major issue for Maine hunters, as well as all the rest of our residents.

I took my 10-year-old grandson Vishal turkey hunting one day last spring, but we quit after two hours during which we were constantly picking ticks off each other. I know hunters who have quit turkey hunting because of this problem.

On Oct. 16, I hunted woodcock and grouse in Waldo County with two friends, and we had to constantly check for ticks. My friend also removed more than 80 ticks from his dog during our hunt.

I just read a very interesting book, “Of Ticks and Islands,” by Dr. Peter Rand, his memoir of leading the Maine Medical Center’s Research Institute’s work on Lyme and vector-borne diseases. The book describes 10 years of tick-related research that he and other scientists did, with help from lots of residents on three Maine islands — Monhegan, Matinicus, and Isle au Haut.

Because of that work — which was often very frustrating and difficult — we now know a lot more about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

The book is advertised as particularly important to “people who love Maine’s coast and islands,” but it’s really valuable to all Maine residents, as the ticks — and Lyme disease — spread throughout the state. The Research Institute has been studying the ecology of tick and mosquito-borne diseases since Lyme came over our New Hampshire border in the 1980s.

Linda and I love Monhegan, and this book tells quite a story, starting with white-tailed deer that arrived there by boat in 1954 at the request of island residents. Eventually, Monhegan had the highest per-capita cases of Lyme disease in the state.

We now know that many of these ticks start out on mice, but Monhegan has no mice. A lot of research there involved figuring out the life cycle of ticks on the island. Lots of people helped with that research, including one lady who collected all the ticks she took off her cat and saved them in a jar of alcohol for the researchers.

There were many research failures along the way, including an effort to trap the island’s rats. They also tested cats and dogs, finding that 25 percent of them had Lyme antibodies. Eventually, they figured everything out, focusing on rats and deer.

For a few years, islanders disagreed on a request to eliminate deer from the island, as the researchers tried to reduce Lyme by treating the deer with a tick-killing compound. That turned out to be too difficult and the effort was unsuccessful. And they were never able to rid the island of rats.

Eventually islanders came to agreement to kill all but 15 deer, by a vote of 22 to 7. Later they agreed to kill all the remaining deer.

Dr. Rand reports, “The bottom line is that when the residents of Monhegan allowed the complete and permanent removal of white-tailed deer, they virtually eliminated the risk of contracting Lyme or other tick-borne emerging diseases on the island.”

After killing all the deer, they had no cases of Lyme for many years. But the research also discovered that song birds deliver ticks to us. When Linda and I were on Monhegan early in October, we learned that the granddaughter of friends of ours there had contracted Lyme on the island last year and become very sick, taken in a stretcher to the mainland for treatment. She is doing better now, but that was certainly scary.

I’ve written a lot about this issue since my good friend Harry Vanderweide got Lyme disease years ago. I was pleased to hear from Heather Peel in Fayette that she and her sister have created an all-natural non-chemical repellent that is getting to be very popular. You can learn more and order it at

One time, sitting at a legislative committee meeting, I felt a tick on the back of my neck. I picked it off, looked at it, and sure enough, it was a deer tick. I disposed of it in the men’s room, and after returning to my seat, the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “What was that?”

“It was a deer tick,” I whispered. To which he replied, “You should have put it on someone you don’t like!”

Ah, no, that would be wrong. For now, even if you are not hunting deer, be alert out there. Ticks are everywhere.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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