It has been another highly successful year for deer hunters in Maine.
And by the time the muzzleloader season concludes on Dec. 11, the harvest could wind up being the highest in 53 years.
That depends on continued success among hunters toting a single-shot muzzleloader into the woods.
Through Monday, hunters had harvested 37,269 deer since youth day on Oct. 23. That represents the largest take in Maine since 38,153 deer were taken in 2002.
Maine already surpassed the 2020 harvest of 33,157, which was the highest in 18 years.
An abundance of deer and lots of hunters in the woods are among the factors that contributed to hunter success this year, according to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Nathan Bieber.
“There’s no one answer, rather it’s a combination of things,” Bieber said. “In order to harvest a lot of deer, there must exist a lot of deer to be harvested. Similarly, there must be a lot of hunters on the landscape to do the harvesting.”
In 2020, sales of resident hunting licenses grew by 8.2 percent, from 120,859 in 2019 to 130,781. The wildlife department expects that number to rise by approximately another 2 percent this year.
Hunters also had access to a record 153,910 any-deer permits distributed throughout the state.
“The amount of available opportunity certainly factors in as well,” Bieber said. “With a lot of permits available to harvest does, especially bonus permits allowing hunters to take an antlerless deer and then continue to buck hunt, we’re hoping to see significantly more antlerless harvest.”
Those numbers won’t be broken down and analyzed until after deer hunting season ends Dec. 11.
There’s plenty of hunting still to be done this season for those who haven’t filled their tags.
Hunters using muzzleloaders — rifles for which the propellant charge and the projectile are loaded from the muzzle — may pursue deer statewide through Saturday.
During the week of Dec. 6-11, muzzleloading is limited to Wildlife Management Districts 12, 13, 15-18, 20-26 and 29.
For the 2021 harvest to approach the 1968 total of 38,153, muzzleloader hunters are going to have to be productive.
From 2016-20, an average of 1,301 deer were harvested during that season. Such success would put Maine over the top in eclipsing 2002 and giving the state its highest harvest since Lyndon B. Johnson was president.
The largest muzzleloader harvest in the past five years came in 2018 when 2,003 deer were taken.