Hunters broke the record for the most deer killed in Maine in a single year with two weeks of expanded archery and muzzleloader hunting remaining in the season.
The preliminary data through Sunday show that 41,875 deer have been killed this season, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Big Game Harvest Dashboard. That surpasses the previous record of 41,735 in 1959.
While DIF&W is not prepared to explain the record harvest until the season is completed and it has an opportunity to break down the data, there is one dynamic that may have affected the increase: the revamped antlerless deer permit system.
The changes in the system allowed permit holders to not only harvest an antlerless deer in a designated Wildlife Management District but also to continue hunting a buck statewide.
That change, which lets permit holders shoot at least two deer, likely has played a role in the higher numbers.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from hunters that were excited to be able to take an antlerless deer without it ending their season, and while we won’t know how the doe harvest took shape this year, it looks like people were pretty willing and eager to use the antlerless deer permits,” said DIF&W deer biologist Nathan Bieber.
The state’s robust deer population, especially in southern and central counties, continued strong sales of hunting licenses and favorable weather conditions likely all have contributed to the record.
Once all the harvest data has been gathered and studied, the state should be able to provide more information about whether the new antlerless permit system led to this year’s record season.
This year’s numbers, which includes the expanded archery, archery/crossbow and firearms seasons, already represent a 7.5 percent increase over last year.
This marks the fourth time Maine hunters have eclipsed the 41,000 mark since the state began keeping records in 1919. In addition to this year’s total and the 1959 take, the other top-five harvests occurred in 1951 (41,730), 1968 (41,080) and 1956 (40,290).
Maine’s record harvest comes on the heels of a 2021 season that seemed to set the stage for a banner year. Last year’s harvest of 38,947 deer was the most since 1968 and was 17 percent higher than the 2020 total, which had been the most productive in 18 years.
The record will continue to increase with hunters still in the woods the next two weeks. Muzzleloader harvests have averaged 1,550 deer over the past four years.