Hunting Deer in Maine Presents Unique Challenges

September 19, 2016 | by Erin Merrill

Guest blogger Erin Merrill discusses the challenges associated with hunting deer in her home state of Maine. You can see more of Erin's work on her blog, And a Strong Cup of Coffee.

Deer hunting in Maine goes against everything you think you know about hunting. We can’t glass as the woods are too thick. You need to bump a deer before you can stalk it (unless there is snow on the ground), it is illegal to bait them and patterning any deer is wishful thinking. That is what makes deer hunting in Maine some of the best in the country.

I love deer season. I love the preparations for deer hunting and the year-round obsession with watching the deer herd on our property. There is always some excitement about seeing a fawn on your trail camera in June. Seeing that same fawn as a yearling gives you reason to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief; it didn’t die over the winter and it didn’t get eaten by a black bear or coyote. We have a see-it-and-shoot-it policy on coyotes during daylight hours, but many deer hunters will also get a permit and coyote hunt at night during the late winter in an effort to keep the numbers down, from their area.

I always look forward to deer season as a way to reconnect with nature and tune back in to the sounds of each hunting space. There is a familiarity that comes from hunting in a certain area and learning what time the grey squirrels wake up each morning. You learn the normal sound of distant traffic, the nearby stream and you know which birds are the first to start making noise each day. You gain a personal relationship with the land that non-hunters just do not understand. 

Each fall, more than 185,000 deer hunters take to the Maine woods and try to fill their tag. Maine harvests roughly 20% (20,000) of our deer population annually. States like Kansas, Iowa and Illinois kill the equivalent of our entire deer population (100,000) annually during their deer seasons. Each hunter with a valid Maine hunting license is allowed one antlered deer. A lottery system is in place for hunters wishing to take a doe and in 2016, 45,775 hunters were lucky enough to get a doe tag. I was not one of them, but luckily, my dad was. This will give our family a better chance to put at least one deer in the freezer this fall.

We will be doing a lot of scouting and moving stands and cameras around before the season starts. Last winter was incredibly mild, so it allowed for us to get out and put our ladder stands up earlier than normal in the spring, and we got the trail cameras up soon after. Each stand, plus the three permanent stands that we have built over the past 10 years, have been evaluated for damage brought on by the weather and/or animals. Throughout the summer tree limbs are cut, trimmed and thinned to make the best shooting lanes possible. It is a fine art to create a stand deep in the woods that allows you to see the deer coming, but keeps you hidden from them and other hunters.

Hunting pressure is a big deal here in Maine. About 94% of the land here is privately owned, which means that unless you own land, know someone who does, have a lease or hire a guide, you are going to be doing a lot of scouting to find a place to hunt. Maine is also one of the states that does not allow hunting on Sundays. I have written many times about how lucky I am that we own about 1,000 acres that we hunt on. And while we do let a couple of fellow hunters hunt on pieces of the land, we have had to post the vast majority of it to keep trespassers out. Two years ago, on opening day of rifle season, I had a hunter walk down a tote road 30 feet from my stand and yell at me because I was on his land (I wasn’t) and he told me not to shoot any deer.  I had a crotchhorn walk out in front of me 30 minutes later and I dropped him with one shot.  Karma at its best!

What is so great about hunting in Maine? The challenge of finding the deer. The camaraderie of hunting with your family. The time spent outside, enjoying the amazing Maine woods. It’s knowing that you need to be mentally and physically ready to put 72 hours in a tree stand and the only deer that you will likely see will be the one that you shoot and put in the freezer for you and your family to eat. It’s hard work, hours spent preparing and watching and monitoring the deer, but when you can squeeze that trigger and have a successful hunt, it makes all of the time and effort worth it.