Legislature kills deer bills

Dad's big buckLast Thursday was deer day at the legislature, where the IFW Committee hosted five hours of hearings on a whole herd of deer bills from any-deer permits to baiting to antler restrictions. The committee stayed on the trail, catching back up with all those bills yesterday, and killing them all. They didn’t need an any-bill permit to do that.

Technically, the bills are still alive. They’ll go to the House and Senate for action next, but almost always, negative votes on bills are the end of the trail. Here are some highlights of the hunt.

Antler Restrictions

Mike Look of Washington County has been advocating for antler restrictions for a long time, and his testimony on LD 341 was very good. That bill would limit deer hunters to harvesting deer with 3 or more tines of one inch or longer along the main beam of either or both antlers. Mike handed out detailed information about antler restrictions, and answered lots of questions from committee members.

Among his other points, Mike noted that Maine is no longer a destination for deer hunters, and has been dead last, or in the bottom three, in the percentage of mature bucks (3 ½ years and older) in the harvest for several years. He said Maine is considered the 4th worst state in the nation in which to hunt deer by WideOpenSpaces.com.

Unfortunately for him, no one else stepped up to support the bill, and lots of key people opposed it, starting with IFW’s Wildlife Division Director Judy Camuso, speaking for the department. “The Department is opposed to the introduction of a mandatory antler point restriction because it may: 1) significantly decrease hunting opportunity, 2) result in high-grading of our buck population, and 3) do little in terms of actually providing a positive impact to the population demographics, or abundance, of Maine’s white-tailed deer,” said Judy, who went on in detail to explain their concerns.

She did acknowledge that, in a DIF&W survey, 50 percent favored antler restrictions and 48 percent opposed them. And she also noted that we’ve seen a 73% drop in big bucks.

SAM’s executive director David Trahan also spoke against the bill, telling about how Becky Morrell, SAM’s office manager, got her first deer last year, a spikehorn. “She was very excited,” reported Dave. He also agreed with IFW Committee member, Senator David Woodsome, when the Senator said, “I’m disgusted with the lack of protection of deer yards.”

Troy Frye who maintains a Facebook page Allies of Traditional Maine Hunting, drove 2 hours to speak against the bill.

But it was probably Gerry LaVigne who really killed the bill. Gerry is the widely-resected longtime deer biologist for DIF&W who, after he retired, started working for SAM. He is still considered the state’s top deer expert. Gerry has spoken and written a lot about the antler restriction issue, so I won’t repeat all of that here. He spent quite a while at the podium answering questions from committee members, and by the time he sat down, I knew the bill was dead. And so did Mike Look.

Any-Deer Permits

There were a bunch of bills to give any-deer permits to specific groups. One proposed giving all landowners who allow us to hunt their land an any-deer permit (they currently get 25% of the permits), another would allocate 10% of the permits to hunters 70 years of age or older (current law gives them to hunters who are 100 years of age or older). Two other bills would give permits to veterans. And one bill would allow owners of 25 or more acres that is open to hunters to take a doe without a special permit, on their own land.

The department opposed all of these bills, and I spoke against them as well, telling the committee that I usually get an any-deer permit as a landowner who owns 150 acres, and I always give my permit to a young or new hunter. I reminded the committee that less than 1/3 of the any-deer permits now go to the large majority of deer hunters, and we can’t afford to reduce that total any further.

I also suggested that they use one of the bills to revisit the entire any-deer lottery, and decide if the current allocations are reasonable and important.

Baiting Deer

A lively hearing on LD 62, An Act to Remove the Prohibition on Baiting Deer, drew lots of testimony on both sides of the issue. I’ll report on that hearing, and the IFW Committee’s decision on this bill, tomorrow.

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.