Hunters will be issued 109,990 any-deer permits in this year’s lottery, marking the first time the permits have topped 90,000 in Maine. Jim Cumming/Shutterstock

While it doesn’t get quite as much fanfare as the annual moose permit lottery, Maine’s any-deer permit lottery will be the talk of the town on Sept. 11. That’s the day prospective permit applicants learn if they’ve been awarded one of the coveted tags allowing them to take a deer of either sex. Those that aren’t so lucky will surely complain, but their misfortune is likely less a matter bad luck and more from misunderstanding of how the system works.

Which wildlife management district (WMD) you apply for can make a huge difference in your chances of being selected. This year, no permits will be issued for WMDs 1, 4 and 5 in western and central Aroostook County, and only 25 each in WMDs 8, 9, 10, 11, 19 and 28 (western mountains east to Washington County). In comparison, approximately 13,000 will be issued in WMDs 17, 21 and 22 (northwest of Bangor and eastern Cumberland County), and 17,000 will be issued in WMD 23 (southwest of Banger). However, absolute numbers don’t tell the whole story. While WMD 24 (coastal areas south of Bath) will only get 8,400 permits, but it’s a small district and that amounts to 40 permits per square mile.

The random computerized drawing occurs in four stages, offering multiple opportunities depending on which you apply for. The first stage is reserved for Superpack license holders who pay a premium price for their nearly all-inclusive license. It only includes up to 2.5% of the permits available and is only applicable in WMDs with at least 3,500 permits. Furthermore, ADPs issued in this stage are for a second deer, which must be antlerless. Any unallocated permits are then transferred to ensuing stages.

The next stage is for landowners. In order to qualify they must own 25 or more contiguous acres of agricultural, forested or undeveloped land. Depending on how many apply, there could be up to 25% of the available ADPs issued in each WMD. The remainder move on to the third stage, for junior hunters, who could similarly receive up to 25% of the available ADPs.

Most of the remaining permits, after the superpack, landowner, and junior hunter drawings, are issued in the regular lottery, which is open to any licensed hunter. Occasionally, there are still ADPs left over after these four stages. Those are allocated in the bonus lottery, which is typically restricted to smaller, more developed WMDs where deer populations may be at or near nuisance levels. Like the Superpack ADPs, they allow successful applicants to take an additional antlerless deer.

Why all the fuss about ADPs? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine had 162,065 paid license holders in 2019. They harvested a grand total of 28,323 deer, for an average success rate of 17 percent. In other words, fewer than one in five hunters was successful.

Licensed hunters are allowed to take one antlered deer during the regular firearms season. As the name implies, an any-deer permit allows them to take a buck or a doe, so they need not be so selective.

In 2019, the 68,145 successful any-deer permit holders accounted for 6,705 antlerless deer. That’s a success rate of less than 10 percent. However, a fair portion of ADP holders shot a buck instead, and may not have known it was a buck when they pulled the trigger. It’s also common practice for deer hunters to hold their ADPs as a sort of insurance policy, hunting for a buck but keeping the permit in their back pocket should the season drag on without success. This is borne out by the fact that nearly a third of the antlerless deer harvest during the regular firearms season occurs during the fourth and final week. And, antlerless deer make up more than 40 percent of the ensuing muzzleloader kill.

With the state giving out nearly 110,000 permits this year, your odds should be a whole lot better, though there are never any guarantees. Trust me. In 2018, I was one of 85,601 people who applied for one of 84,745 permits. I applied in a high percentage district, WMD 21, where 22 permits per square mile were issued, and I took advantage of the Superpack and Landowner tiers of the lottery. I ended up as one of 856 people not drawn for an any-deer permit that year.

If you find yourself among the unfortunate, there’s still hope. Any-deer, junior, landowner, bonus deer, or superpack deer permits can be transferred to another hunter, resident to resident and nonresident to nonresident only. And you have until Oct. 26 to make the transfer so you can wait until after the Youth Deer Day to decide if you want to transfer yours to an unsuccessful youngster.

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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