My first antlerless or “doe” permit, as we called them in those days, was pink. It had an adhesive back, came with instructions and arrived via U.S. Mail, directly from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I had been selected by the department to receive what was, at least for a boy of 12, the most coveted and sought-after permission available: the right to shoot any deer I was lucky enough to see that season. The occasion was so important, in fact, that my father picked me up after school that day specifically to hand me the envelope and celebrate.
Back then, before the days of instant internet access and a modern, well-developed website, DIF&W notified winners of the annual antlerless deer permit lottery by mail. Years later, letters were replaced by an online posting of names and as time went on, the department discontinued its colored, sticky-backed tags, replacing them with permit numbers that needed only to be written down and presented at the registration station.
As time went on, permit allocations increased as DIF&W increased efforts to promote the taking of antlerless deer throughout the state, eventually reaching a record number of 153,910 permits issued in 2021. Of those permits, thousands were what we refer to now as “bonus” permits, allowing a hunter to kill antlerless deer in certain Wildlife Management Districts, for free, in addition to the one antlered deer their regular hunting license allows for.
Last year, three of my closest friends and their immediate family members each received three bonus permits, 24 permits in total spread among 8 hunters. I was awarded one bonus permit as well but many others received none.
During my time as a Maine Game Warden, I routinely heard an argument from the hunting populous that the state was not doing enough to encourage the harvesting of antlerless deer. I can’t count the times I was approached by disgruntled deer hunters, griping about buck-to-doe ratios, exploding doe populations and demanding action from the department.
More often than not, I would find those same hunters possessed one, two or even three antlerless permits, and yet, never tagged a deer that year. At the same time, I was being told by DIF&W biological staff that yearly, on average, hunters were only filling around 12 percent of the total antlerless deer permits issued statewide.
This year, DIF&W has a new proposal. It’s wildly different than anything us Maine hunters have ever seen and is sure to be met with both opposition and applause from a seemingly irreconcilable hook and bullet crowd. As with any new law, regulation or change, there will be those who embrace and adapt, and there will be those who staunchly oppose.
The complete proposal is more thorough and comprehensive but in essence: applicants may apply for an antlerless permit in two WMDs of their choice. If selected, they will receive one permit and be required to pay a fee of $12, which will be dedicated to a deer management fund and habitat improvement. The permit holder will then be able to take an antlerless deer in the WMD they were chosen for in addition to their regular, statewide antlered tag. In the event there are excess permits available in certain WMDs, those permits may be purchased for $12 on a first come, first serve basis but are available to everyone.
Of the several ways the new system would differ from the current one is that bonus permits are currently only issued in a few certain WMDs with higher deer populations than others in the state. The new proposal extends the liberty of being able to shoot an antlerless deer in addition to a buck for all permit winners, not just those in areas where bonus permits are issued.
So, what does this all mean? Well, from this hunter’s perspective, it means tremendous opportunity for all of us. Since most of us can remember, the receipt of an antlerless permit has meant we were posed with choices. Do we pass on the doe feeding at 50 yards on opening day? The ultimate goal for most is to fill the freezer, so do you take that doe and end the season, or convince yourself it’s likely you’ll be able to find another by the last day while spending the time in between holding out for a shot at a buck?
I think DIF&W has proposed a situation that liberates us from having to make those decisions and may have captured the perfect scenario. The proposal promotes the taking of antlerless deer, thus better accomplishing harvest goals, while at the same time allowing more equitable hunting opportunity statewide.
Hunters play the most important and pivotal role in conservation. License and tag fees largely fund programs and conservative efforts nationwide. Harvest data, feedback and surveys provide crucial insight for those tasked with setting rules, regulations and management. It is our duty as responsible hunters to do our part in order to ensure future generations have the same or better opportunities.
As a matter of example and not ridicule or condemnation, of the 25 total antlerless deer permits held last year by the folks I mentioned before, only five were filled and only by three hunters. What does that say about us as hunters? Have we become entitled, greedy and expecting but unwilling to do our part?
Maybe we’ve lost sight of what part we truly play. We have come a long way over the years and now there are more deer hunting opportunities than ever. If DIF&W’s proposal is approved, it will add even more but regardless, nothing will ever be able to match the excitement of opening a mailbox to find one of those beautiful, pink tags.