The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has heard a great deal of criticism about, and gone great lengths to address, very complex and often confusing fishing regulations. There’s more work to be done but in the meantime they might consider turning their attention to the hunting regulations, particularly deer hunting.

Currently, the use of archery equipment is not permitted during the muzzleloader season, except when hunting in the expanded archery season, within the expanded archery zones. Nationwide, most of what are now generally referred to as muzzleloader seasons began as primitive weapons seasons, and allowed the use of bows as well as replica or real antique muzzle-loading firearms. Why are bowhunters excluded in Maine?

Most, if not all, states now allow the use of much more accurate and efficient in-line modern muzzleloaders, which are far more effective at reducing deer to possession than stick and string. The expanded archery season coincides with – and in some areas exceeds – Maine’s muzzleloader season by a week. Meanwhile, the regular statewide archery season accounts for a total kill of about 1,500 deer. It seems unlikely that adding another week or two of archery hunting after the regular firearms season, during the cold of December when most hunters have called it a season, would have any detrimental impact on the deer herd.

Crossbows provide ample examples of confusing regulations. They have been legal equipment during the regular firearms season for several years. More recently, they were allowed during the regular, statewide archery season, provided the user has taken a crossbow safety course, or has held a crossbow license from another state, or is a youth or senior hunter.

During the regular archery season, hunters may take a deer of either sex with a crossbow in designated wildlife management districts without possessing an antlerless deer permit, or by using a permit if they have one.

Confused yet? You will be.


Crossbows are not permitted during the expanded archery season in the expanded archery zones except … they may be used while hunting in the expanded archery zone during the regular archery season, and the firearms season. So, you’re sitting in your tree stand in the expanded archery zone in November and out steps a buck. You can shoot it with a rifle, a compound bow, a crossbow and even a muzzleloader. If you shoot it with a compound bow and possess an either-sex expanded season permit, you can tag it with that, and shoot another buck. If you shoot it with either of the other three weapons, it’s your one buck for the year.

If a doe steps out you can shoot it, too, if you possess an antlerless deer permit; or you can shoot it with a bow, but not a crossbow, if you have an expanded antlerless permit, or a Super Pack license, which includes two expanded antlerless permits. When you get to the check station, just make sure you have the proper tag affixed, and that the clerk enters the right permit numbers upon registration.

Confusion even extends to clothing. According to the Summary of Maine Hunting Laws: “Anyone who hunts any species with a firearm, muzzleloader, or crossbow during any firearms or muzzleloader season on deer (also on Youth Deer Day) must wear two articles of hunter orange clothing.” So, you’re back in your tree stand in the expanded archery zone and orange is not required if you’re hunting with a compound bow, but is if hunting with a crossbow, a weapon with roughly the same trajectory and effective range.

Before you head to the deer woods next fall you’d be well advised to study the law book. You can also pull up a copy on your smartphone and re-read it during those uneventful hours on stand. Even then, you might also want to bring an attorney along to interpret it for you, just to be on the safe side.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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