AUGUSTA — Hunters set a deer-harvest record in Maine during a fall season in which the state’s new antlerless permits allow hunters to kill a buck and doe.

This fall’s preliminary total of 41,875 deer tops the previous mark of 41,735 set in 1959, according to the state’s online database.

The 2022 regular firearm season ended Saturday, Nov. 26 at dusk, but the muzzleloader season continues until Saturday, Dec. 10.

Deer taken over the following two weeks will continue to be reported on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Big Game Harvest Dashboard.

An article in the Dec. 28, 1959 edition of the Portland Press Herald reported on a record deer harvest in Maine that stood until this year.

Jim Emerson of Corinna is not surprised by the record harvest. Emerson, who lives and hunts in the hunting district that has seen the most deer taken — Wildlife Management District 17, just northeast of Augusta — said he saw deer everywhere this fall, and his neighbors and friends did as well.

“It doesn’t seem that big of an increase from (nearly) 39,000 (in 2021) to 41,000,” Emerson said. “But a lot of people didn’t shoot two deer. What are they going to do with them? I think a lot of people think that way. They were happy to get one, they didn’t really try to get two.”

This is the second consecutive year a large number of deer were killed during the fall hunt. Last year’s take of 38,947 was the most since 1968, according to the MDIFW.

Maine has an estimated statewide deer herd of 320,000. But densities vary widely from as few as one or two deer per square mile in northern Maine to as many as 40 per square mile in parts of southern and central Maine.

In an effort to thin the deer herd in the southern half of the state, MDIFW introduced a new antlerless deer permit this fall that has allowed hunters to shoot a doe and a buck with one deer tag, rather than requiring them to choose one or the other, as with the former any-deer permit. In addition, hunters for the first time were able to purchase deer permits left over after the deer-permit lottery, at a cost of $12.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the new deer permit has made the hunt in southern Maine more exciting, but that Maine should be home to a healthy deer herd — and hunting opportunities — across the state.

“When you go north, east or west, the population is way down,” Trahan said. “I’d love to see us get to 10 to 12 deer per square mile in northern Maine. I believe we can.”

Sales of the new deer permit will go toward the purchase and maintenance of deer wintering habitat. Trahan said he believes over time those land purchases for deer wintering yards will help grow the herd in northern Maine.

As of Nov. 26, the highest deer harvest in 2022 had occurred in WMD 17, which covers the area between Madison and Bangor and north to Dover-Foxcroft, with 5,209 deer registered. WMD 23, which covers the area between Augusta and Belfast and north to Newport, had registered 4,698 deer.

The hunting district that covers much of Cumberland County (WMD 21) recorded more than 3,000 deer taken, as did the hunting districts in the Midcoast (WMD 22 and 25) that run from Lewiston to Wiscasset and north to Hallowell, and from Georgetown to Northport.

By comparison, hunting districts north of Bangor had between 100 and 500 deer taken as of early December.

Jeffery Beau of Windham, who bagged a buck in Denmark in Oxford County after just six days of hunting, also saw loads of deer. He won a deer permit in the lottery for WMD 21, and said he might continue to hunt during the muzzleloader season.

“I didn’t see many hunters. But I saw loads of deer,” Beau said.

The state launched its any-deer permit system in 1986 to help better manage the deer herd. The permit allowed hunters to harvest a doe rather than a buck. Over the next 35 years, the number of any-deer permits issued in the annual lottery fluctuated wildly.

In recent years, the number of any-deer permits started to hit historic levels, with nearly 85,000 in 2018 and nearly 110,00 in 2020. It topped at nearly 154,000 last fall. State biologists said it was an attempt to cull the deer herd in southern Maine, where an abundance of deer poses a public health risk because of the rise in cases of Lyme disease.

The archery and crossbow hunting seasons — which are held in different areas of the state between Sept. 10 and Dec. 10 — account for a small fraction of the deer taken in Maine, said Maine Deer Biologist Nathan Bieber.

The November firearm season makes up the bulk of the harvest, he said.