These whitetail does check out a nearby hunting party in northeast Somerset County during the moose hunt in October 2017. Credit: Pete Warner | BDN

The state’s wildlife biologists have proposed a 61.2 percent increase in the number of any-deer permits allotted this year. If the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s advisory council approves the plan, 109,890 hunters will be allowed to shoot deer without antlers during the firearms hunting season.

In real numbers, that’s an increase of 41,745 from the 68,145 permits handed out in 2019, and more than 25,000 more any-deer permits than have ever been issued under the system in Maine in a single year. The proposal was heard at Wednesday’s advisory council meeting. Public comment is expected to begin in late May, and the proposal will be revisited by the council on July 7.

Typically, Maine hunters shoot between 20,000 and 35,000 deer per year. Does are often targeted during the October archery season and during expanded archery seasons in more urban areas that are designed to reduce the deer herd in places where the use of firearms is not safe. Come firearms season, however, those who want to shoot a non-antlered deer must have an any-deer permit.

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Nathan Bieber, the DIF&W’s deer biologist, said that after a mild winter that favored deer survival, and several years of the state’s hunters not removing enough does from the landscape, the decision was made to propose the increases.

“We’ve very consistently under-harvested does over the last decade, or more, usually coming up 20 to 25 percent short on our doe harvest objective,” Bieber said. “The only exception to that was in 2018, when we issued a then-record number of permits [84,745]. It took pretty aggressive action in 2018 to finally, for once, harvest the number of does we wanted.”

Although any-deer permit numbers are set at the Wildlife Management District level, Bieber said that statewide, the 2019 antlerless deer harvest was 25 percent below the amount needed to maintain a stable deer population.

That consistent under-harvest has led to a sex ratio — the number of adult does to adult bucks — that is much higher than the desired 2-to-1, and approaches 3-to-1 in some districts.

That doesn’t mean, however, that state biologists expect hunters to kill more than 100,000 female deer. Instead, the system takes into account that many hunters will choose to shoot a buck if they have the opportunity, and the number of does shot in a given year is far less than the number of any-deer permits issued.

This year’s DIF&W target for the harvest is just over 13,000 does with those 109,890 permits.

Bieber estimated the state’s deer population at 290,000, or about at the level it was at in the late 1990s.

Maine initiated its any-deer permit system in 1986. This year’s any-deer lottery will open for entries in late June, and will close on Aug. 15. The 2020 firearms season for deer begins with Youth Deer Day on Oct. 24. The residents-only opening day is Oct. 31, and non-residents can begin hunting Nov. 2. The last day of the season is Nov. 28.

Watch: What to do when you get your deer

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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...