PORTLAND (AP) – Maine’s deer-hunting season is projected to be the poorest in more than two decades because of the heavy toll of last winter’s harsh conditions on the deer herd.

Hunters are expected to harvest about 24,000 deer during the season, which begins Saturday for residents and Monday for nonresidents, according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“That represents the lowest harvest since 1987,” said spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte.

Hunting season opens for Maine residents only on Saturday, Nov. 1., and for all hunters on Monday, Nov. 3

Hunters last year harvested 28,884 deer in Maine, which is in line with the state’s 20-year average harvest of 28,700.

But this year’s hunt won’t be as productive.

With the deer numbers down because last winter’s deep snows, the state issued fewer permits to hunters to shoot antlerless deer during the 2008 season as part of a management strategy to help deer populations rebound from last winter.

The state issued 51,850 any-deer permits for the season, a 23 percent reduction from last year.

Deer populations, especially in the northern parts of the state, were stressed by the heavy snows that began in early December and continued into March.

Many deer starved to death, froze or fell victim to predators.

In New Hampshire, the 2007 deer harvest of 13,599 was 15 percent higher than 2006 and the second-highest harvest on record. This year’s harvest is expected to be down slightly, perhaps 10 percent to 15 percent.

said Kent Gustafson of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. The season begins Nov. 13.

The number of hunting days was reduced in some areas of northern New Hampshire because of last winter’s toll. But overall, the New Hampshire herd remains in good shape, Gustafson said.

“We too had winter issues, but not as bad as in Maine,” he said.

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is expecting an improved hunting season in 2008 over 2007, but it’s not just about the health of the deer herd. More deer in the state’s woods is leading to more hunters buying licenses, said Shawn Haskell, the department’s deer team chair.

“We have high hopes for the season this year,” Haskell said. The rifle season runs Nov. 15-30.

In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the winter of 2007-2008 was harsh and no antlerless deer can be taken there this year. But in other parts of the state the deer herd is thriving.

“It’s creating a problem in western Vermont,” Haskell said. “Deer are going to be overabundant.”

Associated Press writer Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-10-29-08 1606EDT

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