A whitetail doe and a partially-hidden fawn stand alert while browsing in the woods, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Freeport, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

I’m one of those deer hunters, one who applies for an any-deer permit every year but hopes he doesn’t have to use it. And then doesn’t harvest a doe.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that approach. It’s simply a matter of trying to increase opportunities to put meat in the freezer.

Believe me, I have choked down my share of tag soup.

My story helps point to the struggle facing the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries of Wildlife as it tries to manage the deer herd in Maine.

Most years, hunters don’t come close to killing enough does in the areas with the state’s highest concentrations of deer. This year, DIF&W awarded 153,910 any-deer permits, which allow hunters to tag an antlerless deer.

Despite the record disbursal, only about 10 percent of those tags will be filled this season.

Maine deer hunters generally fall into two main categories: buck hunters and meat hunters.

For meat hunters, it’s simple: See a good-sized deer and harvest it.

But the allure of shooting a mature buck is ingrained in a lot of Maine hunters. I readily admit to being a trophy hunter first and a meat hunter second.

Starting opening day, the hope is to find a mature buck. Still, the decision to pull the trigger isn’t made until I actually have one in front of me.

Where I hunt, I don’t see many deer. So whether it’s opening day or the day after Thanksgiving, if I see a mature buck, I will harvest it.

Many years, there have been no buck sightings. That’s why I put in for the any-deer permit.

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I heard the “doe tag” referred to as an insurance policy, something to use just in case you don’t have a shot at a buck. In my case, that’s not an unfair portrayal.

Unfortunately, I have seen very few does, either. That makes it tough to tag out.

To entice hunters to contribute to the doe harvest, DIF&W also offers bonus permits in the Wildlife Management Areas where there were more any-deer permits than applicants.

I have applied, requesting the WMD in southern Maine where we have a camp. This year, I received two bonus permits.

I won’t be able to hunt there often but, with some luck, I will gladly harvest a bonus doe.

Maybe my situation helps demonstrate why this is a difficult predicament for DIF&W. Well-meaning hunters want to harvest a deer and will pursue all avenues that will increase their chances.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but the current system isn’t removing enough does from the population.

That’s why DIF&W is floating a handful of proposals designed to do just that. The department is soliciting feedback from hunters and sportsmen before finalizing recommendations to send before the Legislature in January.

The key proposals are these:

DIF&W wants to change the any-deer permit to an antlerless permit that would allow a hunter to harvest a buck and an antlerless deer during the season. Fewer permits would be available.

For the lottery, DIF&W would like to limit hunters to two WMD choices for antlerless permits and restrict how they can be transferred or traded, focusing on youth hunters as the recipients.

The aim is to force hunters to give more serious thought to choosing where they would try to harvest a doe if given the opportunity.

The other key proposal is to charge a fee, perhaps around $15, for antlerless permits. That likely would cut down on applicants who have little or no real intention of pursuing a doe.

Also, any excess permits in WMDs where there are fewer applicants than antlerless permits — aka bonus permits — could be sold over the counter to hunters who were not chosen in the antlerless permit lottery.

What impact those changes might have on the doe population remains to be seen. There would be fewer antlerless permits and fewer WMD choices for hunters.

For me, it would still be worth paying to have the chance to shoot a doe — especially when it potentially means an extra deer. And it would extend the hunting season, my favorite time of year.

For someone who hunts in an area where there are a lot of deer, the proposed system should significantly increase the odds of shooting a doe while keeping intact the quest for a mature buck.

In the meantime, my any-deer permit and two bonus tags will provide ample motivation to harvest two adult deer, regardless of sex, this fall.

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Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...