For years, the common question among hunters has been, “Got your deer yet?” Thanks to a pilot program aimed at helping management efforts, this summer’s refrain might change to “Seen any deer yet?”
Nathan Bieber, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s deer biologist, explained that the agency is trying to gather more data by asking Mainers to take part in the Maine Deer Spy project. Participants will log their deer sightings between July 20 and Sept. 10, keep track of whether they are seeing does, bucks or fawns, and send the info to the DIF&W.
Bieber said that the state’s Any-Deer Permit system, which has been in place since 1986, relies on knowing how many deer are born, or “recruited,” into a population each year, and how many survive the tenuous first several weeks of their lives, when they’re especially vulnerable to predators.
That data has traditionally been gathered by examining hunter-killed does and determining if those deer were lactating, which would indicate that they’ve been feeding a fawn. Biologists have also estimated the number of embryos does carry, which helps determine how many fawns would be born the following year.
“The way we do that now is we calculate it [based on the animals we examine at tagging stations],” Bieber said. “The other way to do it is to directly observe it. We could never, with our staff, have enough people out in the field to make those direct observations. But if people are out there in their homes, doing that anyway, we figured we might as well have them record the data and send it in.”
And during a pandemic, Bieber thinks there might be quite a few people willing to participate in the Maine Deer Spy project.
“I think there are a lot of bored people out there who are watching deer anyway, so hopefully we can cash in on that a little bit,” Bieber said.
Bieber said he hopes residents in areas where fewer any-deer permits have been issued choose to take part in the project.
“Any amount [of participation] would be great, but ideally we’d get more data from northern Maine, the western mountains, and Down East, where historically we’ve had less doe harvest and less opportunity to collect data from does,” Bieber said. “I do recognize that most of our input will likely come from areas of the state that have more of the population, but any information we can get from those under-represented areas would be good.”
After the data is compiled, biologists will decide if Maine Deer Spy was worth continuing.
“This is a pilot project, a first-year project,” Bieber said. “We’re going to see what we can get for participation and see what the data quality looks like, and then go from there.”