You’re driving down the road in mid-September and you see it. There’s a pickup truck in front of you with a deer in the bed.
You scratch your head, because you know Maine’s archery and crossbow season on deer starts in October, and the regular firearms season isn’t until November.
Rifle hunters, and those who aren’t diehard bowhunters, may not even realize that there are ample opportunities to hunt deer starting in September and lasting right through the end of muzzleloader season.
Most larger cities and towns, and some with an overabundance of deer, don’t allow firearms hunting within their boundaries. That’s where the expanded archery season comes into play. The season began on Sept. 10 and runs through Dec. 10, the last day of Maine deer hunting in 2023.
Hunters may only use bows and broadhead arrows during the expanded archery season. Crossbows are not permitted.
There are numerous more-densely populated cities and towns in Maine where white-tailed deer are plentiful, but where the residential dynamics don’t allow for conventional firearms hunting.
“The primary purpose is just to provide additional hunting opportunity in areas where hunting opportunity is limited by local discharge ordinances, first and foremost,” said Nathan Bieber, deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “But we’ve also included island geography given the challenges associated with getting hunters onto islands.”
In 1997, the Legislature gave DIF&W the authority to create a special early archery season, which ran Sept. 6-30. Two years later, Bieber explained, the season was expanded to begin the first Saturday after Labor Day and to run through the end of the muzzleloader season in mid-December. Those parameters remain in place today.
Initially, expanded archery hunters were allowed to harvest two deer, but in 2003 the rules were changed. Hunters with an archery license can buy multiple expanded archery antlerless permits for $12 each, along with one expanded archery either-sex permit for $32.
All hunting must take place within one of the expanded archery zones.
That differs from Maine’s statewide hunting regulations governing deer hunting with firearms and archery (bows and crossbows), which allow all hunters to harvest one buck or one antlerless deer. However, people selected in last month’s lottery for the new antlerless permit may — once they have claimed and paid for it — can kill an antlerless deer in the designated Wildlife Management District and also harvest a buck anywhere statewide.
Additional antlerless permits for the regular firearms and archery/crossbow seasons — which also cost $12 — will become available online on a first-come, first-served basis, starting at 9 a.m. on Oct. 5.
More areas have been added to the expanded archery program over the past 20 years and some of the boundaries have been adjusted. Some of the districts include areas in and around Greater Bangor, Bucksport, Castine, Camden, Waterville, Augusta, Lewiston, Portland and Eliot.
Expanded archery zones often are located in residential areas interspersed with small woodlots. Many of Maine’s coastal islands, which can be more difficult to access, also are part of the expanded archery program.
Reducing deer-human conflicts in developed areas is one benefit of the program, Bieber said, and was among the reasons it was started. However, DIF&W does not have any specific goals for deer removal or conflict reduction in urban settings, so that is more of a side benefit to extra hunting opportunities.
In spite of the benefits of the expanded archery season, it represents a small portion of Maine’s overall deer harvest. During the last 10 years, an average of 1,589 deer have been taken during the three-month season.
The highest harvest in that period came in 2020, when hunters killed 1,989 deer as part of the special season.
In contrast, hunters across all seasons killed 272,598 deer from 2012-21, an average of 27,260. That means the expanded archery season accounts for a little less than 6 percent of all deer harvested in Maine.
Hunters are encouraged to obtain landowner permission before hunting in expanded archery areas, especially since the season often involves closer proximity to homes.