When Ronald McAlpine of Jacksonville, Florida, hunts for white-tailed deer in his home state, he can shoot as many as he wants. Florida has no bag limit.

So why does he come each fall to Maine, which has had a bag limit of one deer for almost a century? 

“That’s something people down South talk about, the bigger deer in Maine,” McAlpine said. “Most people would like the opportunity to hunt in Maine.”

It’s a common refrain. Out-of-state hunters say the allure of bigger bucks and the challenge of hunting in uncrowded woods brings them to Maine.

And more hunters are coming.

This year Maine issued 84,745 any-deer permits — the most since the state went to a permit system in 1986. Nearly 5 percent — 3,906 — were given to out-of-state hunters. It’s the largest number of nonresident permits since 2007.

Anyone with a Maine hunting license can shoot a buck here, but an any-deer permit is required to harvest a doe.

Permits have been issued this year to hunters from 44 states, most of which have larger — in some cases, far larger — bag limits than Maine.

Of the 41 states with huntable populations of white-tailed deer, only Maine, Vermont, North Dakota, New Mexico and Colorado limit hunters to one deer per firearm season. 

Maine, which has an estimated 230,000 to 250,000 deer, has a far smaller herd than in most southern or midwestern states. “It has been a one-deer limit since 1925,” said Mark Latti, spokesman with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

McAlpine also hunts for deer in Georgia, which has a bag limit of 12. Still, he prefers the Maine hunt.

“The Georgia hunt you’re going to see a lot more deer,” he said. “One morning we saw 30. That would never happen in Maine, it’s a different kind of hunt.”

White-tailed deer in Georgia can range from 70 to 250 pounds, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Maine is home to one of the largest of the 30 subspecies of white-tailed deer and has bucks that can top 300 pounds, the IFW says.

“Whitetails in general tend to be larger as you move north in the United States,” said Nathan Bieber, a Maine deer biologist.

Massachusetts tops this year’s list of out-of-state permits (1,853) for the Maine deer hunt, which runs through Nov. 24 for the firearms season. New Hampshire is second with 930.

Thirty-five permits have been allotted to hunters from Virginia, where there is a six-deer bag limit. Matthew Marulli of Fredericksburg, Virginia, received one of them. He harvests a deer every year in Virginia, but also has hunted in Maine for two decades.

There is “something about the big-buck allure in Maine,” said Marulli, who hunts here with eight to 15 friends.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why would you go there when you can shoot only one? You never see Maine featured on a hunting show.’ I keep going for the friendships. But Maine is great. We all love going.”

Wisconsin hunter Robert Lettre, an Augusta native, has hunted for deer in Maine since 1994 with family on land he owns in central Maine. He enjoys hunting here better than in Wisconsin, which has an unlimited bag limit, because he can stalk deer without being in a crowd of hunters. 

“It’s a nine-day season in Wisconsin and everyone is on vacation. We shoot 400,000 deer a year, so that’s a lot of people walking around the woods,” Lettre said. “And in Wisconsin, you can drive deer. Sometimes you have 30 people driving deer through the woods walking more or less in a line. Any place they are driving in the woods, you look and you see orange.”

Lettre has twice earned Maine’s Big Bucks Club patch for shooting a deer over 200 pounds. He has harvested at least two deer a season for 54 years in Wisconsin, but never shot a 200-pound deer there.

“I’ve shot a lot of bucks here. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many,” Lettre said.

Dozens of state fish and game officials across the country said most hunters are not interested in harvesting more than a few deer for the meat, but there are exceptions.

“In 2017, we had one individual that purchased 25 deer licenses,” said Shon Eide, an information specialist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “In the past, I know of one individual who purchased over 40 leftover buck tags in our West River Deer unit. If you are looking for what a person can theoretically (shoot), the best answer would probably be: unlimited.”

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