Attention deer hunters.

On March 29th, Gerry Lavigne testified before the legislative Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in support of two significant deer-hunting proposals.

Lavigne, retired as the state’s deer biologist, is currently serving as spokesman and chairman of the Deer Task Force for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. A nationally known and highly regarded deer man, Lavigne is to the sportsmen’s community what E.F. Hutton is to Wall Street: when he speaks, people listen.

SAM is fortunate to have Lavigne.

One of SAM’s proposals is L.D. 655. This proposal would open the firearms season on deer a week later in the Wildlife Management Districts in central, eastern and southern Maine. Northern Maine districts would continue to open and close as they do now. The rationale behind the proposal is simple and straightforward – it increases the odds of better hunting conditions in the parts of Maine that tend to have milder, late fall weather. As Lavigne testified, “it would increase the odds of hunting in cool weather and increase the chances of a tracking snow.”

The additional benefit would be that in these late opening districts, bow hunters, bird hunters and trappers would gain an extra week.

IF&W’s spokesman Ken Elowe testified in opposition to the SAM proposal. His overriding theme seemed to be if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Lavigne pointed out that prior to 1984, Maine enjoyed a split season on deer with a northern zone and a southern zone deer season. Here is an example of how this split season would work. Next fall’s hunt dates would look like this: the northern zone dates would be Oct. 27 to Nov. 24. In the new southern zones, the general firearms season would run from Nov. 3 to Dec. 1. The other significant deer-hunting proposal advanced by Lavigne is L.D. 421. This proposal changes the current any-deer permit system to an antlerless-deer-only system. The bill is aimed at an increasing deer management dilemma in Maine. Far too often, the doe permit is never used by hunters, who hold out for that big buck. The result is that in deer-rich southern and central WMDs, doe-harvest quotas are not being met, and too many does remain in the management mix. (Lavigne testified that in the past seven out of 10 years, the Department has undershot its doe-harvest quota by approximately 15 percent.) Under the new plan, a hunter, who holds an antlerless permit in a given WMD, could take a doe first and then a buck. This would apply to October archers and December blackpowder hunters as well. A bow hunter, for example, could harvest an October doe and then legally hunt bucks during the general firearms season in November.

What kind of response did Lavigne’s proposals draw? The brunt of the questions from the legislative panel was thoughtful and seemed to indicate an open mind. Not the same can be said, though, for MDIF&W. Speaking for the Department, Elowe also testified in opposition to the antlerless-deer proposal. He argued that “we are already reaching our (deer) population goals.” He also asserted that this plan would significantly reduce the number of doe permits issued and would breach a promise made by MDIF&W, which was not to charge a fee for doe permits.

More mature bucks would be taken, also. This last point was conceded earlier by Lavigne, who argued that the tradeoff was justifiable.

There were other less significant bills heard at this hearing. Throughout, there seemed an overarching philosophical difference of opinion as to whether the SAM proposals represented additional hunt opportunities or merely a reallocation of the deer resource.

SAM and Lavigne deserve credit for thinking outside the box and advancing ideas that are adaptive to the changing times. Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department, even if you love it, is, after all, a state bureaucracy, and, like most governmental agencies, slow-footed and reactionary when it comes to change.

The Maine deer hunter’s hope should be that our lawmakers on the committee identify the redeeming components of the many SAM proposals – and there are some – and not simply rely on the status quo. Of all the deer-hunting proposals advanced, the split-season idea has promise. It shouldn’t be that difficult to adapt.

V. Paul Reynolds 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, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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