Eight years ago, Mike and Wendy Yates sold their New Hampshire home, quit their jobs and bought one of Maine’s oldest hunting lodges, almost an hour north of Rangeley.

It’s 13 miles off the road, way off the grid and surrounded by a quarter-million acres of former paper company land.

“We’re not going to compete with the Holiday Inn, because we don’t have those amenities,” said Wendy Yates at the 98-year-old Bosebuck Mountain Camps in Lynchtown.

Fortunately, she doesn’t need them to draw a crowd: After hunters spend a long, cold day in the woods or out on Aziscohos Lake, she’ll light the wood stove in their cabin and dish up homemade raspberry cheesecake, apple crisp or triple-chocolate cake.

This week, bird hunters packed up, deer hunters settled in. Firearm season for deer starts Monday after a resident-only day on Saturday. 

They’ll hunt and spend: an average $98 on groceries, $42 at restaurants and bars, $7 in tolls, $95 on clothes, $3 on maps.

“I can’t tell you how many people when they drive in say, ‘Oh, we stopped here or we stopped there and we bought this or that,”‘ Yates said. “And they’re here for a week.”

Western Maine is the most popular place in the state to hunt deer , according to an extensive survey into the economic impact of hunting that tracked how and where hunters spend their money.

Hunters spend more than $230 million a year and support 3,400 jobs, according to “Hunting in Maine in 2013,” released last fall by the Maine Office of Tourism and the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

An IF&W spokesman believes those figures grew in 2014.

Earlier this year, a new group that calls itself Hunting Works for Maine formed with the specific mission to “promote the strong economic partnership between the hunting and shooting communities and the local economy.”

Members of this group are politicians, business owners, public officials, Maine guides, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and other economic development groups, who say they will advocate for public policy to help support hunting-related jobs and outdoor-dependent economic development projects.

At the Bethel Bait Tackle & More in Bethel, co-owner Sarah Lane sells hunting licenses and gear — “dog vests, dog collars, doe pee, knives” — to people headed into the woods and hands out advice on their way back through.

“We are kind of the hub where people come to get information for taxidermy, meat processing,” Lane said. “Hunting is a huge part of the local culture and it’s also something that people come from all over the country to do here.”

Some come from even farther: People in 10 foreign countries, as well as all 50 states, hold Maine hunting licenses, according to IF&W.

Not surprisingly, out-of-state hunters spend the most here, according to research, but their ranks started to thin in 2004 and tumbled faster after severe winters knocked back Maine’s deer herd in 2008 and 2009.

Officials now believe that the state has turned a corner. Slowly, more hunters — and more deer — are coming back.

“Have you ever met a pessimistic fisherman or hunter? No. We’re always optimistic and I think there’s some good signs,” said IF&W spokesman Mark Latti. “Our deer herd has rebounded from those harsh winters. We’re headed in the right direction and I think we’re beginning to see that in our license sales.”

Dollars, cents

The 48-page state report, prompted by a legislative task force concerned about the drop in hunters from away, measured hunters’ economic impact in each of Maine’s eight tourism regions. Western Maine falls into the Lakes & Mountains region, which stretches from Windham to Carrabassett Valley and over to New Hampshire.

In 2013, 22 percent of day-tripping deer hunters headed here, making it the most popular region to hunt deer. It was also the most popular place to hunt small game (hares, squirrels, raccoons) and the second-most popular to hunt bears.

Statewide, including the cost of travel, gear and extras, hunters spend about $1,400 per trip — turkey hunters the least, bear hunters the most.

Deer-hunting, by far, has the biggest economic reach at nearly one-third of all spending, $68 million out of $231 million.

The state has a rich hunting heritage — it is the home of L.L.Bean — and hunting license numbers among residents have been strong.

In 2000, 168,500 Mainers, more than 1 in 10, had hunting licenses. In 2014, 196,146 people did.

Meanwhile, out-of-state hunting-license holders fell to 26,417 in 2011, down 36 percent in just over a decade.

Latti said some of the reason is a corresponding drop in deer to hunt. Herd numbers plummeted after back-to-back harsh winters.

Last year, the state estimated the deer count is back up to 211,050; out-of-state licenses, back up to 27,893.

This fall, Maine has issued 28,770 any-deer permits, 9,000 fewer than last year to compensate for another tough, snowy winter. But Latti said the word in the woods is that the snow came late enough in the season that it didn’t hurt the herd as badly as it could have.

“We do issue fewer any-deer permits after severe winters, but hunters can still shoot an antlered deer at any time” during the regular season, he said. “Hunters still have the opportunity to take a buck.”

‘It’s big woods out there’

Last year, Lane tagged about 140 deer at Bethel Bait Tackle & More. (The shop’s phone number: 207-824-HUNT.)

“This hunting season so far, I’ve tagged 40 bears, seven moose and maybe 10 turkeys,” she said. 

Lane also books hunting trips through the store and sometimes goes along with a local hunting guide to carry gear. Some hunting parties that have a lone woman also like the extra company for her.

“Probably 90 percent of the people (the guide) takes are from out of state,” she said. “We just took out a bunch of people from New Jersey the last couple of weeks. Where they live, everything is flat. Their forests are like square blocks, like in a city. When we went hunting here, we’re doing a lot of serious hiking — we’re going a mile and a half up the back of a mountain, super-steep terrain — their minds are blown. They’re not used to doing that at all. Most people love it; they come back.”

Post-hunt, bear meat has to be processed in a day or two while deer meat can wait up to a week. Shortly after that, it’s time to decide about any display.

“Mounting a deer is $500, but if you mount a moose, it’s more like $1,000 and depends on how big it is and what kind of mount you get — it can be up to $2,000,” she said. “A full mount for a large bear can be $2,500 to $5,000, so that’s stimulating the local economy. A lot of people are spending money on that stuff.”

At Bosebuck, the Yateses see snowmobilers in the winter, families in the summer, fishermen in spring and fishermen and hunters in the fall.

“It’s a pretty good mix,” Mike Yates said. “We’ve had a lot from the Midwest, bird hunters coming out (drawn by ruffed grouse). Deer hunting is more just New England, probably our farthest deer hunters would be New Jersey.”

Bosebuck started as a sporting camp in 1917. Most of its 12 cabins are original. Wendy worked in insurance and Mike was a third-generation commercial electrician when they found the property and took the plunge. Now it’s home and work.

“You have to have a varied skill set in order to make this work because you’d be broke long before you could hire someone to do everything,” she said.

Most of their bear and moose hunters, and some fishermen and bird hunters, hire guides, services that start in the hundreds of dollars.

Their camps tend to attract large, often multi-generational hunting parties.

“I think a lot of our guests are looking for the old-time companionship of being in camp with other hunters and talking about the day at the end of the day, socializing a lot,” said Mike Yates, a registered guide in both Maine and New Hampshire. “A lot of the ones who come, they’re looking for a trophy and it’s big woods out here.

“I think the trickle-down part of them coming up is huge for the state and the area, for sure,” he said. “It’s a day (that) isn’t so great and it’s pouring rain and someone doesn’t feel like hunting, they go off for a day and they’re going to go spend money somewhere.”

For all hunting’s importance — $338 million into the Maine economy after researchers in the state report factored in a multiplying effect — Yates believes “the state isn’t working hard enough to attract them.”

“I think it would pay off,” he said.

Outside outreach

While hunting and fishing license sales fund the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife conservation work and research, sales of its logo merchandise largely fund its marketing and education efforts, according to Latti.

The department has an active Facebook page with 81,857 fans, brings in journalists who go back home and write up their adventures, and staff attend outdoor trade shows in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina.

In September, the department hired Responsive Management, a public opinion survey research firm outside Washington, D.C., in a $98,000 contract to study how all of IF&W is doing at getting its message out about what it has to offer and how to reach more people in-state, which includes spreading the word about hunting and fishing.

Moving that message out of state might come down the road, he said. The study is due back before the new year.

Steve Lyons, director of marketing at the Maine Office of Tourism, said a report released last month, a companion to last fall’s hunting study, will help steer his office’s efforts next year.

“That’s the one we were kind of waiting for before we did any major initiatives because that told us who they were, what media influences them, where are they coming from, what types of game are they interested in — that kind of thing,” Lyons said. 

It found, among other things, that out-of-state hunters don’t respond so much to the ads in sporting magazines but are influenced by the stories inside, by social media and by what their family and friends have to say. 

“The sporting heritage goes a long ways back and it’s really part of our culture, something worth our while to promote,” Lyons said.

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