HOLLIS — Dexter Lord of Waterboro pointed to one common truth when asked about Maine’s Youth Deer Day: Deer hunting in Maine – which typically has a success rate of about 15 percent – is not easy. 

“My grandfather has hunted for 50 years. And he’s only shot three deer,” the 14-year-old said while taking a break from a hunter safety course last weekend at the Buxton & Hollis Rod and Gun Club.

Maine has held an annual Youth Deer Day for 20 years, giving junior hunters an opportunity to take to the fields and woods without competition from adult hunters. Several other states, however, offer multiple youth-only days. Many young hunters in Maine, like Lord, believe more youth-only days would grow enthusiasm for hunting among their peers and give them a more reasonable opportunity to harvest a deer.

Youth Deer Day in Maine, which took place on Saturday, kicks off the firearm hunt for deer each fall. The junior hunters must be accompanied by an adult who is not carrying a gun. 

Last year, Lord hunted on Youth Deer Day with his grandfather, as well as every day after school for an hour during the regular season. They didn’t see any deer in that time.

“Some of my classmates hunt. And we talk about how (the one-day youth hunt) is annoying, especially how the bow hunters get two months and (firearm hunters) only get one,” said Lord, a student at Massabesic Middle School.

Other kids across the southern half of Maine – which has the greatest density of the state’s white-tailed deer herd – share Lord’s frustration in what they see as a relative lack of opportunities for young hunters.

“I think, honestly, having a couple more youth days would be beneficial. It would give us more experience and a better chance to learn and focus on what we’re doing. And it would take the pressure off during the regular season,” said 16-year-old Arianna Starbird of Sumner. She has harvested two deer, but faced competition from adult hunters in one of her hunts.

In Maine, all hunters age 16 and under who hold a junior hunting license can take part in Youth Deer Day. There is no minimum age for a junior license holder. At age 17, they must obtain a regular hunting license. 

Sales of the junior hunting licenses have declined steadily over the past two decades – dropping 45 percent between 2002 (17,515 licenses) and 2020 (9,580), although youth with a “lifetime license” do not need an annual permit.

The deer harvest on Maine’s Youth Deer Day has remained consistent – generally about 3 to 4 percent of the total harvest, which has ranged from around 20,000 to about 33,000 over the past 10 years, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Maine Deer Biologist Nathan Bieber points out that youth hunters in Maine do have a unique advantage. On Youth Deer Day, hunters can harvest a buck or a doe without an any-deer permit. During the regular firearm season, all hunters – including kids – can only harvest a doe if they’ve won an any-deer permit in the state’s lottery. One-quarter of those permits also go to youth hunters.

Maine’s white-tailed deer herd is estimated to be about 290,000, according to Bieber. The state allotted a record 153,910 any-deer permits this year.

Several states offer a two-day youth hunt, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin. Vermont started with a one-day youth hunt in 1997, but expanded to a two-day hunt in 2002 to help hunters age 15 and younger enjoy a better hunting experience, said Nick Fortin, a spokesman with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Tennessee offers two youth-only weekends during its deer season. Texas gives youth hunters the weekend before the general firearm season for a youth-only hunt and an additional 14 days during the muzzleloader season – an extended, late-season hunt that was added in 2009.

“Deer hunting is a rich tradition in Texas. Anecdotally, I always hear that kids skip school or leave early to go hunting on their family ranch,” said Alan Cain, the white-tailed deer program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Even Maine junior hunters who have shot more than one deer say more days without competition from adults would let them learn in a more relaxed atmosphere and better enjoy their time in the woods.

Starbird, who has harvested a deer each of the past two years, said it can be stressful with adult hunters nearby.

“It would help us get a bit more experience to know what to do. Like if you walk toward a hunter, then you learn to go around them,” she said.

Skyler Kurr of Nobleboro shot a 5-point buck on the last day of muzzleloader season in 2020. She says having more days for a youth-only hunt would be beneficial, because some adults have disrupted her hunt. Photo courtesy of Shawna Kurr

Skyler Kurr of Nobleboro, shot three deer by the time she was 12, including a 5-point buck on the last day of the muzzleloader season last year. It was a thrilling hunt with her dad, Jeremy Kurr, she said. But the 13-year-old said taking the field after Youth Deer Day can be difficult knowing adult hunters may interrupt her hunt.

Jeremy and Shawna Kurr said that happens to their daughter a few times a year.

“It’s an unspoken rule not to come into someone else’s area when they’re there. When it’s a young hunter – that’s discouraging,” Shawna Kurr said. “Yet adults do come into her area. It’s disappointing.”

Because hunting is not allowed on Sundays in Maine, a youth-only weekend hunt is not possible. But some junior hunters believe the state should allow youth hunts on more weekdays.

Daniel Marston, a 16-year-old from Buxton, said adults have a significant advantage in being able to take vacation to hunt in November – while children in school only get a few vacation days around Thanksgiving. For that reason, Marston said the state should designate the five weekdays between Youth Deer Day (Oct. 23 this season) and Maine resident-only day (Oct. 30 this year) as a youth-only hunt. It would require kids to hunt after school – but they’d be the only firearm hunters in the field.

“We should get a week,” said Marston, who has hunted for six years and shot one deer. “I did a paper in school on hunting in language arts at Bonny Eagle. I looked up hunting laws. There are a lot of states where (just) youth get to get out hunting a lot more.”

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