Preliminary deer harvest data collected throughout the state suggest this year’s kill will be in the vicinity of 32,000, up 6 percent from last year’s 30,313 but down 11 percent from an expected 35,800.

The total deer kill for each of the past 10 deer seasons is as follows: 2003 — 30,313; 2002 — 38,153; 2001 — 27,769; 2000 — 36,885; 1999 — 31,473; 1998 — 28,241; 1997 — 31,152; 1996 — 28,375; 1995 — 27,384; 1994 — 24,683; 1993 — 27,402.

“Deer harvests increased by up to 20 percent in Northern and portions of Eastern Maine due mainly to the effects of a mild winter,” said Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife deer biologist Gerry Lavigne. “Harvest levels seem similar to last year in Southern and Western Maine, and it appears that the deer kill has declined in some Central Maine areas where the department had increased doe permits over the past four years in order to reduce the deer population. Harvest trends and lower sightings by hunters in these Central Maine locations seem to reflect the department’s success in reducing the deer population in these areas.”

Hunting conditions for the firearm season on deer, which began Oct. 30 and ended Nov. 27 were better than last year, but not ideal. The first two weeks of the season were cool and relatively dry, but woods were often noisy, which had deer wary. Tracking snow, which greatly improves hunter success rates, arrived late in the second week up north, but quickly became noisy before melting later in the season. A few locations in eastern and southern parts of the state received tracking snow for brief periods. Wind and heavy rain were not as prevalent as last year, but the latter two weeks of the firearms season were warmer than normal. Many biologists said this may have depressed hunter activity.

Opening Saturday and the first full week produced a steady harvest with a good number of antlerless deer and young bucks. Normally a slow week, the second week of the firearms season remained steady, but the kill dropped off during weeks three and four. Hunter effort and harvest were below par during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, particularly for antlerless deer. “Hunters did not seem to be ‘cashing in’ their any-deer permits during the final week of firearms season, as they commonly do,” Lavigne said. As a result, fewer does and fawns were killed than desired.

The source of this deer harvest estimate is based on a model that uses the total number of deer examined by wildlife biologists at meat lockers, roadside check stations and home visits. All told, DIFW biologists and cooperators will have examined 6,500 or more deer in 2004. The number of deer examined by biologists is highly correlated with total harvest. An actual count of the number of deer harvested in Maine this fall will be available in March. At that time, department biologists will make deer harvest recommendations for 2005.