Outdoors in Maine: Antler restrictions merit further discussion

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More and more Maine deer hunters I speak with are asking the question: Why not impose antler restrictions as part of Maine’s fall deer hunting regulations? The belief is that if we restrict the antler size on a legal deer we will in time be bagging more trophy class bucks with bigger racks.

Other states like Vermont and Pennsylvania seem to be having some success with antler restrictions, also referred to as APRs (Antler Point Restrictions).

It seems like a no-brainer, right? Stop bagging spikehorns and other yearling class bucks, and presto, you will automatically increase the age class of harvestable bucks.

Unfortunately, like most wildlife management equations, the APR question is debatable, and it is fraught with complexity and research ambiguities.

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Here is what we do know: After six years of APRs in Pennsylvania, state biologists are calling antler restrictions there an unqualified success. APRs in that deer-rich state have:

1. Increased buck survival

2. No change in breeding timing

3. Avoided negative genetic impacts

4. Maintained hunter success rates

5. Increased number of adult bucks

6. Increased age structure of bucks

Curiously, though, Pennsylvania bucks are still being harvested prior to growing their largest antlers. In Vermont, where there has been a restriction on shooting spikehorn bucks since 2006, research indicates that the overall antler size in the annual harvest has begun to decline.

What about Maine? Would APRs work here? The jury is still out. State deer biologist Kyle Ravana has taken a cautious, conservative position on the issue.

“If not used properly, APRs may actually hurt a deer population,” he said.

Ravana also points out that if Maine imposed antler point restrictions, our hunter success rate on bucks, based on current statistics, would decline nearly 50 percent. Not good at a time when we are trying to woo back our nonresident hunters and “grow back” our overall deer populations.

Ravana also points out that APRs can impact genetics and doe-to-buck ratios. He says that Maine’s current doe-to-buck ratio is healthy, about where it wants to be.

His cautious approach notwithstanding, Ravana emphasizes that he does not “discount the potential utility of APRs in some situations.”

Meantime, the APR question merits close scrutiny and thoughtful discussion. It is clear that, among Maine’s serious deer hunters, word is spreading on the very successful results of antler restrictions in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has significantly more deer per square mile than Maine, while Maine’s declining deer herd is just starting its recovery, so different wildlife management decisions come into play.

Polls indicate that a large majority of Pennsylvania deer hunters have supported antler restrictions from the very beginning and still support them.

How would Maine hunters come down on this question? Perhaps we need to find out.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com or by calling Diane at 207 745 0049.

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