March is the month that Maine sportsmen are asked to provide input for the upcoming hunting and fishing seasons. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (www.mefishwildlife.com) even offers a “town hall” Web site where interested sportsman may offer their ideas, complaints and suggestions, which is a good option for those who are unable to attend the various meetings and hearings that will be held around the state this spring and summer.
After more than 100 years of wildlife management in Maine there really isn’t that much to complain about, although there are things that could be tweaked to provide more opportunities for hunters without causing undue harm to the resource. For example, allowing hunting on Sunday would give hard-working Mainers an extra day in the woods during October and November. Back in the ‘70s I was one of thousands of Mainers who worked full-time jobs (including five hours on Saturday), and trying to get in a few hours of bird, deer or duck hunting after a long work week was nearly impossible. And then, when clocks were set back one hour in mid-season working hunters were out of options. It was either take a sick day (seriously frowned upon by most mills back then), take a vacation day (not an option for most workers whose “vacation” was a maintenance shutdown in July) or just wait till Saturday afternoon and hope it didn’t rain or snow on your parade. Many other states allow Sunday hunting and nothing disastrous has happened as a result. I’m sure the topic will come up again this year.
I would also like to see crossbows allowed for deer hunting in October. Naysayers claim that doing so would wipe out the deer herd but there are some 30 states that allow crossbow hunting and, surprise, they have not decimated the whitetail population. A crossbow delivers an arrow at speeds and distances similar to a compound bow – 40 yards is about maximum for both designs.
And, lately most of the October bowhunting is taking place in the Expanded Archery Zone, generally east of Interstate Route 95, where some 1,700 deer were taken by bowhunters in 2014 (2015 harvest numbers are not available). Only 400 deer were tagged by archers in the remainder of the state, an area of 25,000 square miles. Surely we can find room for a few extra crossbow hunters in October.
When it comes to spring hunting opportunities I’d like to see a couple of changes made. First, it would be nice to have the spring turkey-hunting season open in April instead of May. I observe turkey behavior every day year-round and have noticed that breeding activity begins as early as mid-February, with the males strutting and gobbling throughout the day and hens accepting mates even when snow is still on the ground. Because turkeys are subject to delayed implantation hens that are bred in late winter can still nest in early spring – most males have done their job long before the current May 1 opening day. In my area turkey activity is most enthusiastic in March and April, and actually fizzles out by May and early June, when it’s presently legal to hunt them.
Hunters are allowed to take two bearded birds in spring, so why not let them start hunting in mid-April when conditions are pleasant and the birds are most active?
Also, it has been 35 years since Maine’s spring bear-hunting season was closed because the MDIFW thought hunters were taking too many bears. Now, after three decades of study it’s been determined that there are more bears in Maine than was originally thought and biologists are saying that another 1,500 bears need to be removed from the population to keep their numbers on an even keel. Oddly enough, absolutely nothing has changed from a hunting standpoint since the spring season was suspended; the seasons and bag limits have remained the same for over 30 years. A spring season, which should give the MDIFW its 1,500 bears and return a season to sportsman that, in the final analysis, should never have been curtailed to begin with.
Oddly enough, Maine’s Indian tribes have been hunting spring bears throughout this period, with many non-Indian hunters gladly paying top dollar for the privilege of hunting on tribal lands in Maine.
I was told by state biologists that the real reason they haven’t reinstated the spring bear season is “politics,” but after two failed anti bear-hunting referendums in 10 years one could deduce that the voting public approves of the MDIFW and its bear management program. If so, why not bring back the spring season, if only for two or three weeks? Hunters get to hunt, guides get to make a living and the MDIFW gets its 1,500 additional bears.
A lifelong small game hunting enthusiast, I would also like to see the MDIFW allow September squirrel hunting. We have millions of gray squirrels in the state and as softwoods give way to hardwoods there will be millions more. Maine’s earliest citizens (when Maine was still part of Massachusetts) ate squirrels regularly and these abundant rodents are still as good in a stew as ever. We’re not talking about hunting the back yard or state park variety of squirrels, which have learned to adapt to human encroachment. The wild squirrels that inhabit Maine’s 17 million acres of forestland are shy, reclusive, suspicious and challenging to hunt. Try it (hunting and Brunswick stew) before you knock it!
Finally, I think it’s time to do away with the size limit on fish. Why not just make the limit “five fish” and forget the size limit. Loons, mink, otters, eagles and ospreys catch and kill short fish all year. Why not let anglers keep what they catch, regardless of size, within the bag limit?
Opinions vary, of course, and mine is only one of many. Log onto the MDIFW’s Web site and let them know what you think and what you’d like them to consider as they set the framework for the coming hunting seasons. The deadline for comment is March 31 which, believe it or not, is right around the corner!