Deer hunting, especially in the North Woods, is a pretty big part of life for Mainers. It is a rite of passage for boys and girls whose fathers – and sometimes mothers – drag them to their first hunters’ breakfast , pile them into all sort of vehicle, drive them into the wilderness, and help them slog through the woods to just the “perfect” site for bagging that first deer.
I know, I know, Bambi was a deer and killing deer is bad, bad, bad. At least, in the minds of many people.
But in many parts of the country, including Maine, hunting is more than just sport. Deer and other game are hunted for meat; some families, especially in this economic climate, are looking for meat from game to help them get through the winter. In most cases, it is not a life-and-death situation, but it is pretty serious.
And the deer population – and the subsequent decline in deer kills – is way down.
The effects go well beyond those to the individual hunter. I came across a blog entry on DownEast.com about the decline of the deer population and the far-reaching effects on the local and state economy. It is a pretty devastating situation.
Stores and restaurants, outfitters, sporting goods stores, hotels and motels, and hunting lodges, some of them in the same family for several generations, are hurting financially this year in part because there are fewer deer and fewer deer hunters.
My mother, who occasionally works at the small general store in my hometown of Portage, Maine, where deer kills are registered, said the take this year has been incredibly disappointing. She echoed some of the comments by the blog’s author, George Smith, who is described as “a columnist, TV show host, executive director of the state’s largest sportsmen’s organization, political and public policy consultant, hunter, angler, and avid birder and most proud of his three children and grandson.”
Smith wrote that deer population has been reduced by two back-to-back rough winters, poor habitat, and thinning by bears and coyotes. That – and I would dare say the sluggish economy – have caused longtime hunters to cancel or shorten their trips to the North Woods. Others have cut short their trips after spending days in the woods and not spotting deer or deer sign.
The blog outlines the economic hardship being caused to businesses and the financial loss to the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in license fees.
As Smith says, the only real fix in the southern part of the state is to have a milder-than-recent winter. Mother Nature controls that.
But he also quotes a former game commissioner warning that deer hunting in the North Woods may never return. That would be a terrible loss to poor Mainers looking to stretch their grocery dollars by putting game on the table. And it would be even more so for the future generations of would-be hunters who will never be dragged to their first hunters’ breakfast, loaded into a rig, and taken to remote spots in the North Woods seeking to bag their first deer.