Maine’s expanded archery season for deer opens the Saturday after Labor Day and runs through mid-December. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

A warm breeze that rattled the leaves brought little relief from the stifling temperatures as a bead of sweat ran down my cheek. Those leaves, still lush and green, obscured much of the forest floor below my elevated perch and the movement of air through them made hearing a challenge. Meanwhile, the evening’s first mosquitoes arrived as the shadows grew longer and light began to fade.

The change was coming. I knew when the sun dipped below the treetops the breeze would die and the air would cool a bit, hopefully enough to discourage the bugs. Then the deer, mostly sedentary throughout this warm September day would stir from their beds and slowly start to feed; at least that was the hope.

For someone not accustomed to it, mid-September might seem a strange time to be deer hunting, but Maine’s expanded archery season begins every year on the Saturday following Labor Day. By the calendar, it’s still summer, though the wild creatures know different. Early migrants like snipe, rails and teal are already passing through. Meanwhile deer and bear feel a growing urgency to seek high calorie foods in advance of the coming winter.

Warm temperatures and abundant greenery aren’t the only differences between this and the traditional archery season that begins in early October. The expanded season was established in part to provide additional deer hunting opportunity where local deer populations could withstand additional hunting pressure, and where firearms hunting is impractical or restricted by discharge ordinances because of denser human development.

These enclaves provide safe havens where local deer populations often grow to nuisance levels, leading to higher crop and property depredation, car-deer collisions and incidence of Lyme disease. At least they did until the expanded season came about.

Now in its 25th year, the season initially ran roughly three weeks in September and included only a small strip along the southern coast from the New Hampshire border to Brunswick. True to its name, the season has expanded considerably in duration and area, and now runs into mid-December and includes a dozen different zones including parts of Augusta, Waterville, Bangor and the coastal islands.

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The hunting, too, is somewhat unconventional, occurring sometimes in small pockets of woods often close to human habitation. The din of traffic, barking dogs, day hikers and mountain bikers are common sights and sounds for the expanded archer, but like the deer they hunt, they’ve learned to adapt.

Though the deer have become accustomed to human presence, and may even be a common sight in backyards and park lawns, they’re every bit as wary as their big woods cousins. Passing cars and even routine foot traffic may not send them fleeing, but step off the trail and into the woods and their innate alarm goes off.

How effective this season has been at achieving objectives depends on perspective. The overall annual archery harvest has increased six times over, with the majority now coming from the expanded season. The number of bowhunters has also increased substantially. However, state wildlife managers still struggle to mitigate the impacts associated with locally overabundant deer.

Reasons for the latter vary. While the expanded season has encouraged more hunters to pick up a bow and hunt closer to home there is a law of diminishing returns. Too many hunters in a small patch of woods reduces everyone’s success rate. Development continues to overtake once huntable areas, and increasingly more huntable land is being posted against hunting. In time, hunters and hunted will be crowded into fewer and smaller areas. Hopefully we can retain enough open space for both.

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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