October 27 – When whitetail deer gun season opens for Maine residents on Saturday, hunters in Wells, Standish and Lebanon will be on high alert, as will those hunting further north in Vassalboro and Corina.
These are among the communities that have recorded the highest deer harvests in the state over the past decade.
But the #1 city for deer kills in the past 10 years? York, by a wide margin.
“It’s rare not to see a deer,” said George Drew, a York resident who has hunted for 50 years. “They’re pretty much everywhere in York. If you drive around York for an hour, chances are you’ll see deer.”
Best known as a summer tourist destination, York has been the number one deer harvesting city for six of the past 10 years, finishing second twice. The findings come from a Portland Press Herald review of historical harvest data collected by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
York, with a population of less than 14,000, has an area of 55 square miles. Drew said there is plenty of access to rich hunting grounds in York Land Trust reserves, parts of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Area, a swath of 10,000 acres of protected land open to hunting. .
“Certainly the beach is the No. 1 attraction from June through fall,” said Todd Frederick, York board chairman and hunter for 20 years. “These deer harvest statistics surprise me. But York is a big city in square miles and there are a lot of big landowners who allow hunting on their land with permission. They are very conservation oriented. They understand the circle of life and that the deer the herd must be managed.”
NEW WOOD-FREE PERMIT
Maine has an estimated 320,000 deer herd, according to IFW. However, densities vary widely from one to two deer per square mile in northern Maine to up to 40 deer per square mile in parts of central and southern Maine.
Indeed, the top 20 communities for deer harvests between 2012 and 2021 were typically found in clusters in these parts of the state. York recorded 2,232 deer harvests over a 10-year period, 12% more than the No. 2 town, rural Corinna (1,993) in Penobscot County. Auburn (1,870), St. Albans (1,832) and Wells (1,819) round out the top five.
Maine Deer biologist Nathan Bieber said the state’s new antlerless deer permit – which for the first time allows hunters to kill a buck and a doe, rather than having to choose one or the other – shouldn’t have much of an impact on cities that are perennially among the best for deer harvests.
“Cities in the middle of the state might see an increase in deer harvest, but I think the cities that were at the top now will continue to be at the top, places where there are lots of deer and lots of hunters. will have a lot of opportunities, regardless of the permit system,” Bieber said.
The harvest of 38,947 deer last year was Maine’s largest since 1968. But the antlerless permit was introduced this year in a bid to cull deer in the southern half of the state, where the IFW says the herd must be thinned out.
Out-of-state hunters will join Maine residents on Monday in the annual deer hunt. The regular gun season runs until November 26.
BUXTON TOP IN 2021
Last year, Buxton, York County, topped all towns with a harvest of 348 deer, but it’s also a regular in the top 10, finishing there five times in the past 10 years. Nearby Standish has also finished in the top 10 five times since 2012, while Waterboro has four.
Vassalboro (five times in the top 10) and Sidney (also five times) in Kennebec County have proven productive deer hunting areas – as has Auburn (eight times), which has an urban center that quickly turns into fields farmland and woods, all good deer habitat.
Corinna seems a bit of an outlier geographically among Maine’s top deer harvesting towns, but IFW’s Bieber said the town of 2,200 has a community of committed hunters.
Jim Emerson, 71, has hunted in Corinna all his life. Dexter’s retired police chief said it was an easy place to hunt, with no hills or mountains and flat farmland that attracts deer, as well as a strong hunting community.
“Most of us have lived here for a very, very long time. We are all hunters and we all have friends who come from afar and come to hunt here. I have several who come to my hunting camp. C That’s why we have a large population of hunters,” Emerson said.
Kory Drake of Waterville has hunted in Corinna with his brother for 15 years because it is rich in deer.
“There’s a lot of farmland, so the deer are obviously grazing in the fields,” Drake said. “And in Corinna there are a lot of little back roads or ATV trails so I can go from one 100 acre field to the next field in minutes. My two good deer I had I got out right away from the field. Didn’t have to go into the woods at all except to pick it up.
NO SURPRISES FOR LOCALS
But Maine’s deer hunting hotspot of the past decade has been York.
Matt Brock, who works at Eldredge Lumber & Hardware, a deer tagging station in York, was not surprised by the harvest data.
“If I had to deconstruct it, I’d say it’s because a lot of people feed the deer in the area. We sell a lot of wildlife food,” Brock said. “We always see a surge of deer when the season opens.”
Neither Lillian Preston nor her father, David, were shocked to learn that York leads all Maine towns in deer harvesting. A 14-year-old hunter, Lillian killed her second deer in her second year of hunting when she went hunting with her father in York on Young Deer Day on Saturday and harvested a buck. When Kittery’s father-daughter hunting team hunts in York, they see a lot of deer.
“We’ll be back tonight to see if she can get a doe,” David Preston said Saturday morning.
Now retired, Drew, 71, hunts near his home in York three to four days a week – and usually harvests as many deer as he can with bonus permits. Last year, he harvested four deer and donated one to a pantry, as he plans to do again this year.
When told that York has repeatedly proven itself to be the best deer harvesting town in Maine, Drew wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“I’m doing my part,” he deadpanned.