Monitoring Maine’s deer population is a community effort

Here’s an interesting column by DIFW’s Sarah Boyden.

Monitoring Maine’s deer population is a community effort

By Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist, Sarah Boyden

In this season of giving thanks, I want to appreciate the hardworking men and women that help the Department manage our wildlife species. Deer season is a busy time of year for regional wildlife biologists and seasonal contractors who scour the state searching for biological samples from harvested deer. We collect incisor teeth to assess the age structure of the deer population and sample lymph nodes from deer found in areas that have increased risk of disease. Chronic Wasting Disease is a contagious disease that is lethal to deer and occurs in neighboring Canadian provinces and several eastern states.

Thankfully, Chronic Wasting Disease has never been detected in Maine’s deer. However, considering the proximity of the disease in neighboring provinces and eastern states, the Department conducts surveillance by collecting hundreds of samples during deer season, to monitor for presence of the disease. Samples are often hard to track down. Many hunters come from neighboring states and return home with their harvest, along with our needed samples. The level of sampling required to monitor for Chronic Wasting Disease would not be possible without the help from local businesses that volunteer their time contributing to the monitoring effort.  Two sample groups that are invaluable in the monitoring effort include butchers and taxidermists.

Butchering deer is frigid, finger-numbing, back-breaking labor and some would say, a dying art.  Many butcher shops are family businesses, with several generations of men and women involved in the process. During deer season, it doesn’t matter what time I swing by. When I open the door, there is the butcher dressed in their long white jacket, skillfully processing one of hundreds of deer that will come through their door during the season. The result are neat packages of tenderloin, steaks, burger and sausage that fill the freezer and sustain many families throughout the year.

Taxidermists turn harvested deer into beautiful works of art and preserve memories of the hunt. The work can be tedious and the timelines for producing these creations are often demanding. Despite the busy time of year, they also significantly contribute to monitoring the deer population every year. Many samples are collected at participating taxidermy businesses and staff are eager to help with the monitoring.

Each harvested deer has a small plastic tag attached to the hind leg, known as the seal.  A seal is a unique number assigned to the deer and helps biologists track information like, where the deer was harvested, and the hunter’s contact information.  Partnering butcher shops and taxidermists voluntarily take time out of their busy days to help biologists secure samples. As deer come through the door, staff attach a paper tag to the deer, identifying the seal number, the town and the weight of harvested deer.  Although each tag takes only a minute or two, that time adds up. By the end of the long season, these businesses have volunteered many hours of their time labeling and saving samples for biologists, an effort that ultimately helps to keep our deer population healthy.

As 2019 comes to a close and we gather together to celebrate with friends and family, I want to extend my gratitude for all the help this deer season.  We are fortunate to live in a place where hardworking people take a break from their busy schedules to lend a hand in a way that benefits all Maine people and our wildlife.  Happy Holidays!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.