Donald Pelkey puts his arm around his son, 10-year-old Thomas Pelkey, as they exit Bob’s Kozy Korner Store in Orrington on youth hunting day on Oct. 20, 2018. Thomas shot a 101-pound buck with the Savage .243 rifle that he won in the youth hunting day raffle at Bob’s Kozy Korner two years earlier. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

With a week and a half left in the regular firearms deer season, hunters are on pace to tag more than 30,000 deer this year, according to the state deer biologist and an independent analysis of available data.

Nathan Bieber of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reported that preliminary totals indicate that hunters have tagged nearly 17,500 deer over the first 15 days of the firearms season. As of Wednesday morning, 20,282 deer had been registered by all hunters thus far in 2019. Deer shot by bowhunters earlier in the year are included in that total.

“In an average year, around 60 to 65 percent of our firearms harvest occurs over the first 15 days of the season,” Bieber said. “We had an extremely productive opener this year, so the higher end of that range seems more likely.”

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Using those numbers as a guide, Maine hunters are on pace to register between 27,000 and 29,000 deer during the firearms season alone.

But the season isn’t over when firearms season closes on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Hunters will also be able to use muzzleloaders to hunt for another week or two after that, depending on the part of the state they want to hunt. A year ago, 2,003 deer were shot during those muzzleloader seasons.

“Typically, about 82 to 86 percent of our total harvest is from the regular firearms season,” Bieber said. “This should all put us on track to be fairly close to last year’s total harvest.”

In 2018, Maine hunters registered 32,451 deer, which marked the highest total since 2002 (38,153).

Extrapolating from Bieber’s historic data, it’s possible that his year’s overall harvest could finish above the 2018 total.

Using Bieber’s data, if 60 percent to 65 percent of this year’s regular firearms harvest took place during the first 15 day and if 82 percent to 86 percent of this year’s total harvest occurs during the regular firearms season, hunters may finish the season having registered between 31,000 and 36,000 deer.

If this year’s harvest tops 30,000, that would mark the continuation of an upward trend over the previous 10-year average. The deer herd struggled and decreased earlier in the decade, and Maine hunters have registered an average of 22,917 deer per year over the past 10 years, with a low total of 18,092 (2009) during that span.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...