Bob Bastey, owner of Bob’s Kozy Korner Store in Orrington, celebrates with Thomas Pelkey, 10, and congratulates him on the deer he shot on youth hunting day Saturday. At left is his father Donald Pelkey and at right is Lee Kantar, DIFW moose biologist. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

Families of Maine hunters will be eating plenty of venison this winter, as nearly 30,000 of those hunters successfully filled their tags.

Nathan Bieber, the state deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said a total of 28,314 deer were tagged by hunters using bows and arrows, crossbows, rifles and muzzleloaders this year. That total is considered “preliminary,” and could be adjusted if new data becomes available.

“That’s about 5,000 deer more than the 10-year average [harvest], but still a little bit behind last year’s [32,451],” Bieber said. “Last year was a record year [over the previous decade] and it was hard to measure up to that.”

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Bieber said “hunter effort,” a data point that considers how much time hunters spend afield, seems to have remained fairly consistent. Therefore, he thinks the high number of deer taken was a product of favorable weather and a thriving deer herd that provides hunters with plenty of animals to pursue.

A banner start set the tone that the season would follow. Opening day featured weather that favored hunters, and they took advantage, according to Bieber.

“One thing I thought was really surprising or interesting this year was just how huge our opening day kill was. We took somewhere around 3,800 deer on opening day this year,” Bieber said.

A year ago, the weather wasn’t so great for hunters on opening day, and only 2,400 deer were killed. Snow covered much of the state for that 2018 season, which likely helped hunters reach that 32,000-deer plateau by the end of the season.

Bieber said the state’s new online big game registration system has allowed him and other biologists to have educated discussions with Mainers wondering how the season has been going. Before the system was introduced in 2018, biologists would not have had harvest information until months after the deer season ended.

“We don’t need data for management immediately after the season, but it has been really cool just to be able to answer questions,” Bieber said. “A lot of people are really curious about how the season went, and what happened, and where, and being able to actually look that up just after the season is great, rather than having to wait six months until when people have sort of lost interest.”

And it’s not just biologists who benefit. Anybody with access to a computer or smartphone can check the total number of each big game animal tagged at any time. The totals are updated daily.

A further breakdown, with all totals consisting of preliminary data that may be adjusted:

— On Youth Deer Day, a day set aside for junior hunters, 728 deer were tagged.

— Another 1,574 deer were taken through expanded archery seasons, which are often used as management tools in areas where firearms deer hunting isn’t allowed.

— Regular archery hunters took 619 deer, while muzzleloader hunters killed 1,155.

— That leaves about 24,241 deer that were taken during the regular firearms season.

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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...