With another deer season winding down, it’s a good time to take a look at how Maine’s deer herd is holding up.

There are a number of sources to consult but the most comprehensive and objective is the Quality Deer Management Association’s annual whitetail report. In it, the QDMA has compiled facts and figures from all the whitetail states and provinces across North America. It should be noted that gathering and compiling all this data takes considerable time, much of which is spent waiting on the states. As a result, the most recent numbers available are from the 2016 season.

We’ll start with the number of antlered bucks harvested, as that’s where most of the interest and effort from hunters is directed. Not surprisingly, Maine tops the list of New England states with 16,711, followed by Vermont’s 9,995 and Massachusetts’ 7,043. You would expect Vermont, and New Hampshire to be close behind as they have a good deal of undeveloped land. The Bay State is a bit of a surprise, as is Connecticut’s 6,092 bucks, just edged out by New Hampshire’s 6,629. By comparison, Maryland hunters killed 30,326 bucks and New Yorkers killed 107,006. Yikes!

It’s not really fair to compare the states head-to-head by absolute numbers because they are so different in size. Bucks killed per square mile is a more accurate index to the quality of deer hunting. Maine comes in dead last in that category for New England at 0.5. Next worse are New Hampshire at 0.7, and Rhode Island and Massachusetts tied at 0.9. First place in New England goes to Connecticut at 1.3. Tops in the Northeast was Pennsylvania at 3.3. For a broader perspective, Michigan was tops in the nation at 3.5 bucks killed per square mile; that’s three more bucks killed per square mile than Maine. Some parts of Maine only have three live deer per square mile.

Some might also argue that it’s not fair to compare northern states like Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to Maryland and Pennsylvania, or Virginia’s 89,675 buck harvest. Let’s look at a state with similar climate and habitat, like Minnesota, where hunters killed 100,921 bucks. That’s not a typo. Granted, it’s a bigger state, but it still averaged 1.3 bucks per square mile. However, a good bit of that harvest likely came on the strength of southern Minnesota.

So let’s look at North Dakota with a similar, perhaps more severe climate than Maine, and poorer deer habitat. Hunters killed 22,660 bucks, but at a rate of only 0.3 per square mile. South Dakota was the only other whitetail state in the nation with a lower rate than Maine.

Another index to the quality not only of deer hunting but of the overall deer herd and deer management program is age distribution in the buck harvest. It reflects age distribution in the overall herd, with more even distribution being the preferred goal of both managers and hunters. One of the best measures for this is the percentage of yearling bucks in the harvest, higher numbers obviously being a bad thing. New England numbers are pretty similar, with Vermont gaining a noticeable advantage at 34 percent and Maine in the middle range at 47. New Hampshire came in at an abysmal 51 percent, second to last in the nation behind Wisconsin’s 65 percent.

Given the high number of young bucks being killed, it’s not surprising that New Hampshire was also in the top (or bottom, depending on your perspective) among states with the lowest percentage of bucks 31/2 or older in their harvest, at 24 percent. Maine tied Massachusetts with a respectable 30 percent in that category in New England. Again not surprising, the top four states in terms of fewest yearlings harvested – Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma, were also top four for highest proportion of older bucks. Clearly, their management programs are working. It should also be noted that has nothing to do with winter severity or habitat.

Enough about bucks. The real strength (or weakness) of any deer management program lies in the female segment. They represent the reproductive potential of the population. Maine hunters harvested 6,339 does, more than any New England state but Connecticut. Again, we need to look at that on a relative scale, which changes the picture a bit. Maine’s 0.2 does killed per square mile is not only worst in New England, it ties North and South Dakota for worst in the nation. Also on the bottom of the list is New Hampshire at 0.5. Tops in New England is Connecticut at 0.9. Meanwhile, Maryland hunters killed 5.7 does per square mile.

An interesting side note, New England states showed up regularly among the stats for type of weapon used. Nationwide, in terms of the percentage of deer harvested by bow, Connecticut ranked second at 50 percent with Massachusetts in fourth place at 45. Maine ranked fifth in the nation in percentage of deer harvested by regular firearms. Meanwhile, New England states took four of the top six spots for percentage of harvest by muzzleloader, with Rhode Island leading the nation at 45, New Hampshire in third at 23, followed by Massachusetts and Vermont (22).

So what does all this mean? To some, a lot. To others, not so much. It’s always interesting to contrast and compare. If nothing else, it gives us an idea how our deer and our deer hunt stack up, which is probably of more concern to wildlife managers than hunters. I’d be willing to bet a good many Mainers are satisfied with their home state’s deer hunting, regardless of the low deer numbers and low success rates, particularly after this season. If you’re among them, I only suggest you not look too closely at what’s happening beyond the borders of our state.

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

[email protected]

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