DIFW debating how to increase game harvests

I wasn’t surprised that Maine hunters killed fewer deer, bears, and turkeys last year, because fewer people are hunting in Maine. But I was surprised that harvest numbers declined so sharply.

State officials said the preliminary number of deer killed was around 28,000, down from 32,451 in 2018. The turkey fall harvest this year was 1,980, down dramatically from 3,507 birds. And the black bear harvest this year was 2,371, a decrease of nearly 1000 from the previous year’s harvest of 3,314.

The Portland Press Herald reported that the reductions were on par with wildlife biologists’ expectations. Maine Wildlife Division Director Nate Webb said fewer permits, extreme weather and abundant natural food were among the reasons for the reductions.

I talked with DIFW Commissioner Judy Camuso about this, and was pleased that she now supports my legislative bill to eliminate the fall turkey hunting permit. My bill last session to do that was opposed by DIFW and carried over to the 2020 legislative session when it will be considered again.

Judy tried to increase the turkey harvest this years by increasing the bag limit in a bunch of districts and obviously that didn’t work. Very few hunters pursue turkeys in the fall.

By eliminating the fall hunting permit requirement, it would be possible for any hunter to shoot turkeys in the fall. For example, if you are hunting grouse and saw a turkey, you could shoot it. And if you saw a couple dozen turkeys on your lawn, you could go out and shoot some of them.

Judy is also considering ways to reduce our high population of 45,000 bears. One possibility is allowing you to trap one bear and shoot one bear. Another thing they’re considering is to allow hunters to shoot two bears. That would probably be limited to southern and central Maine. And guides in northern Maine are already objecting to this. I have doubts that bear hunters would actually want to shoot two bears.

I do think Judy is doing a terrific job as commissioner, and appreciate her work on these and other issues and projects.

When Judy and Mark Latti came to Mount Vernon to visit with me a couple weeks ago, we had a lively discussion about lots of issues. And that was fun!

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, georgesmithmaine.com, 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.