AUGUSTA (AP) – Hunters will get a little extra time to look for deer this season, which opens Saturday for residents and Nov. 3 for nonresidents.

A new law allows hunting until a half-hour after sunset for all wild animals and birds, with some exceptions. Hunters must, as usual, wear two articles of blaze orange clothing.

More than 170,000 deer hunters are expected to take part in the annual fall search for white-tail in Maine. Biologist Gerry Lavigne of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department said hunters should find the deer to be nearly as abundant as they were last year.

Hunters should expect to find the most deer in the southern and central areas of Maine, but some of the biggest deer in western, northern and eastern parts of the state, the department said.

The statewide deer population is estimated to be 259,000. Last year, hunters killed 38,153 deer in Maine, the highest statewide total since 1968.

“If normal hunting conditions and hunter effort prevail, the statewide deer harvest in Maine (this season) should in the vicinity of 35,800,” said Lavigne.

Last season’s statewide harvest of bucks – 20,694 – was also one of the best ever, second only to the record buck kill of 21,422 in 2000.

Hoping to rebuild area deer herds, the state is issuing no any-deer permits in northern and eastern Maine. There was conservative allocation of any-deer permits in western to northern central Maine, while there was a sharp increase in central and southern Maine to maintain or reduce these populations.

State biologists plan to collect 750 samples of Maine deer killed by hunters to determine whether chronic wasting disease is present in Maine.

The disease, which causes irreversible brain damage in affected animals and ultimately leads to their deaths, was discovered east of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin last year.

Biologists sampled 831 brain tissues from deer killed throughout Maine during the 2002 hunting season, and all of samples tested negative for chronic wasting disease.

Hunting is big business in Maine. A 1998 University of Maine study says it generates $454 million in economic activity in Maine, which includes $27.4 million in state sales and income tax revenue.

AP-ES-10-26-03 1527EST

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