A revolt is brewing in the deer hunting community over management of Maine’s most popular big game animal. While an earnest group of Quality Deer Management enthusiasts has been at work for many years in Maine, the drastic decline in the deer population seems to have triggered a strong grass roots effort to try something different in our state.
Simply put, quality deer management is a specific strategy that includes antler restrictions, usually three on a side. It has been successfully employed in other states, at least to the satisfaction of deer managers and hunters.
The major stumbling block to QDM in Maine has been the strong opposition of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s leaders, including the top deer biologists.
Long-time and well-respected DIF&W deer biologist Gerry Lavigne, now retired and working for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, recently told me, “I am still opposed to antler point restrictions, especially in northern Maine. Selectively removing bucks will not lead to deer recovery. Improving doe and fawn survival will.”
“Increase the deer population from 2 to 10/sq. mi. and we'll have an abundance of mature bucks again,” said the always-outspoken Lavigne. “Any other strategy is just a smokescreen. Hunters deserve better than that.”
I just got off the phone with Lee Kantar, DIF&W’s current chief deer biologist. “I agree with Gerry on this one,” he said, launching into a very detailed explanation of why QDM won’t work and should not be tried in Maine. Kantar is very articulate on this subject, with plenty of scientific data to back up his opinion, and says even QDM’s state leaders in Maine agree that antler restrictions should definitely not be implemented in northern Maine.
While he laid out a lot of reasons to oppose QDM, these are the ones I managed to write down:
We’d be shooting the best yearlings – ones with 3 antlers on a side – and leaving the weaker and smaller yearlings.
It won’t skew the sex ratio or assure that more does are bred. “Our data show that a super majority – almost all – does are bred every year in Maine,” says Kantar.
Forty four percent of all bucks shot in Maine are yearlings. This is lower than other states that have implemented QDM.
In fact, “Maine is different than all other states,” says Kantar.
Both Kantar and Lavigne believe other factors, including more and better wintering habitat and reductions in predation by bears and coyotes, are the keys to rebuilding the state’s deer herd. These are the elements that are driving the Maine Game Plan for Deer.
I will add this stumbling block for those who advocate for QDM. Most Maine hunters, while they would be very happy to shoot a big buck, want more than that to shoot a deer, period. This year will prove that, with a lot of small deer taken.
This will all be disappointing news to the Aroostook County sportsmen who have launched a drive to implement QDM in northern Maine.
Writing in the Northwoods Sporting Journal’s December 2012 issue, Wayne Selfridge of Caribou reported that the Aroostook County Conservation Association has taken an interest in QDM, with a majority of its members in support of trying this in their area.
Selfridge, who has hunted and fished throughout the world as a 23 year military veteran, asked his readers, “How about it? Are you willing to join me and a growing number of Aroostook deer hunting believers that QDM would work in Aroostook?”
Selfridge urged readers to “talk with our wildlife managers, politicians and representatives on DIFW boards to get their support in making Aroostook deer hunting reputable again with QDM as the solution.”
I’ve heard talk and received messages from hunters in western, northern, and eastern Maine, about the possibility of implementing antler restrictions.
Unless they can convince Lee Kantar and Gerry Lavigne that this is a good idea, they are wasting their time.
PHOTO: My 2010 buck. Might have been difficult to tell he had three-on-a-side antlers.