Big news and big changes for Maine’s big game animals

DSCN3511It’s the most comprehensive and engaging process ever used to create big game animal management plans in Maine. And you are going to have good opportunities to participate, including an online “Town Hall” forum and a series of public meetings in all parts of the state. I’ll let you know when and how to participate, as soon as I receive that information.

Yesterday I attended an all-afternoon presentation of fascinating information about recent surveys of Maine sportsmen, landowners, and the general public, plus current big game management plans and challenges. The survey results were presented by Mark Duda of Responsive Management, which has done surveys and plans in all 50 states. The big game plans and challenges were presented by wildlife biologists in Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Duda randomly sampled 933 residents, 956 hunters, and 304 landowners by telephone, mail, and email, and by region (north/east, central, south), in January and February.

Eventually Duda’s entire report and the biologists’ presentations will be available on DIF&W’s website. And I will be writing about all of this in much more detail as the process continues. By the end of the year, we should have new management plans for all of our big game animals: deer, moose, bear, and turkeys. Today I’ll give you a few highlights from yesterday’s the survey results.

DIF&W Rated Highly

Duda reported a significant increase, from 23 percent to 55 percent, in the public’s awareness that DIF&W is responsible for managing and protecting freshwater fish and wildlife in Maine, since a similar survey was done in 2003.

Increases were also seen when people were asked if they were satisfied with DIF&W’s wildlife management work. Those who are very satisfied increased from 23 to 40 percent and while somewhat satisfied dropped from 32 to 29 percent. The percentage who didn’t know went down from 33 to 21 percent. Only 2 percent were somewhat dissatisfied while 5 percent were very dissatisfied.

Duda called this a remarkable increase and excellent ratings. He also asked who was the most credible on wildlife management issues. Most credible were game wardens t 74 percent with DIF&W’s biologists not far behind at 72 percent. Environmental organizations came in at 24 percent, sportsmen’s groups at 23 percent, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at 31 percent.

Respondents also expressed a strong level of satisfaction with the hunts that DIF&W allows for these big game animals, with 80% very satisfied with the moose hunt, 73% with the bear hunt, 72% with the turkey hunt, and 60% with the deer hunt. Those who were not satisfied were in the single digits, which Duda called, “extremely low negatives. You get an A to an A+ for management,” he told DIF&W.

Interesting Questions

Among the more interesting questions and responses were these. Hunters are very divided on the possibility of instituting antler restrictions for deer (3 points on a side), with half strong supporting that and half strongly opposing it.

There is tons of support for expanding turkey seasons and bag limits – giving me encouragement to propose that again at the next legislative session. I was particularly pleased to see, on DIF&W’s list of accomplishments in the presentation on turkeys, all the 2014 changes in the turkey season – lower fees, all-day hunting in the spring, and expansion of the October hunt from one week to all month. All of those were in a bill that I proposed and DIF&W opposed, until the final IFW Committee work session on the bill. I guess they are happy with those changes now!

I was surprised that hunting access to private land was rated better by hunters in the southern region than the central region. No surprise that it was rated highest in the northern region.

When landowners were asked if they’d had problems with wildlife, 1/3 said yes, with coyotes at the top of the list of problem animals. Deer were second and turkeys third. “We asked landowners a lot of questions. I’m just giving you the tip of the iceberg here today.” Duda said. Can’t wait to see the rest of the survey results!

Most landowners rated wildlife management as excellent or good. Highest dissatisfaction was with turkey management (16 percent said it was fair, and 17 poor). “Turkey issues are the red flags,” said Duda. Twenty nine percent of landowners think turkey populations should be decreased. Among hunters, significant disappointment was expressed with management of deer and turkeys. 34 percent want more deer, 23 percent more moose, 13 percent more turkeys, and 8 percent more bears.


The Big Game Steering Committee which is working with DIF&W on the new management plans received a lot of information to digest yesterday, and will get Duda’s full report soon, all 500 pages of it. It will be a challenge for everyone, including DIF&W’s staff, to incorporate all of this information into the new management plans.

But as Duda noted, “We now have a really good handle on what people think about turkey, about deer, about moose, about bear.” That is an understatement!

I will also receive copies of the report, and will write more about it sometime soon, as well as continue to attend these meetings and tell you what I learn there. And soon, I’ll have that information about when and how you can participate directly. Up next, I’ll tell you what I found most interesting about the presentations by our wildlife biologists on the plans and challenges for deer, moose, bear, and turkeys.

Duda summed up his presentation with this: “My overall feeling is that the department is doing a fantastic job. There were not a lot of negatives.”

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.