Maine deer harvest tops 32,000, highest since 2002

Maine’s deer hunters packed a lot of venison in their freezers this year, as the deer harvest reached its highest level since 2002.

Nathan Bieber, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s deer biologist, said 32,438 deer were killed by hunters this year, according to the state’s new online big game registration system, which was used statewide for the first time during the recently completed deer season.

The deer harvest in 2002 was 38,153.

“It’s been a very productive year for Maine deer hunters,” Bieber wrote in an email. [The total was] over 5,000 deer more than last year, with most of the increase occurring in southern and central Maine as you’d expect.”

Bieber said biologists would look more closely at the preliminary data, and the official deer kill number could vary a bit.

In previous years, before the online system, biologists would have been forced to wait for months before learning how many deer had been harvested, as paper registration forms had to be sent to Augusta and data-entry clerks spent hours inputting the information.

Those days are gone, and Bieber is excited about the future. The final day of the final sessions of deer season — for muzzleloaders — was Saturday, and biologists already have a working total in their hands as they continue to manage the state’s deer herd.

“It’s a huge step forward to be able to track the harvest in real time, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the implications of being able to do that,” Bieber wrote. “It’s been really neat to watch things unfold throughout the season rather than just getting a number at the end after everything’s wrapped up.”

Two weeks ago, as the muzzleloader season began around the state, Bieber said he expected hunters to take another 750 to 1,000 deer during that season.

Muzzleloader hunters had much better success than that.

“At present, our muzzleloader season harvest is at 1,983, which exceeded expectations,” Bieber wrote. “Back in 2002 when we harvested over 38,000 deer, only 1,038 of those were during the muzzleloader season, so as you can see, this year was an anomaly. Most of the increase was in central and southern Maine again, but still, very impressive showing by Maine muzzleloader hunters.”

From 2000 through 2017, the state’s deer harvest averaged 26,010 animals per year, with a low of 18,092 in 2009 and a high of 38,153 in 2002, according to a compilation of data provided by DIF&W.

The state’s largest deer harvest included in data going back to 1940 came in 1959, when hunters tagged 41,735 deer.

Maine’s deer harvest since 2000:

— 2018: 32,438

— 2017: 27,233

— 2016: 23,512

— 2015: 20,325

— 2014: 22,490

— 2013: 24,217

— 2012: 21,365

— 2011: 18,839

— 2010: 20,063

— 2009: 18,092

— 2008: 21,062

— 2007: 28,885

— 2006: 29,918

— 2005: 28,148

— 2004: 30,926

— 2003: 30,313

— 2002: 38,153

— 2001: 27,769

— 2000: 36,885

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