You’re driving down the road in mid-September and you see it. There’s a pickup truck in front of you with a deer in bed.
You’re scratching your head, because you know that Maine’s shooting and archery season on deer begins in October, and regular firearms season isn’t until November.
Rifle hunters, and those who aren’t fanatical bow hunters, may not realize that there are ample opportunities for catching deer starting in September and continuing through to the end of the muzzleloader season.
Most large cities and towns, some with an abundance of deer, do not allow firearms hunting within their borders. This is where the extended shooting season comes in. The season began on September 10 and runs through December 10, the last day of deer hunting in Maine in 2023.
Hunters may use broad bows and arrows only during the extended shooting season. Crossbows are not allowed.
There are many densely populated cities and towns in Maine where white-tailed deer are common, but the residential dynamics do not allow for traditional firearm hunting.
“The primary goal is just to provide additional hunting opportunities in areas where hunting opportunities are limited by local dump laws, first and foremost,” said Nathan Pepper, a deer biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “But we also included the geography of the island due to the challenges associated with getting the fishermen to the islands.”
In 1997, the legislature gave DIF&W the authority to create a special early shooting season, which ran from September 6-30. Bieber explained that two years later, the season was expanded to begin the first Saturday after Labor Day and run through the end of the muzzleloader season in mid-December. These standards are still in place today.
Initially, expanded archery hunters were allowed to harvest two deer, but in 2003 the rules were changed. Hunters with a shooting license can purchase several extended shooting permits without pods for $12 each, along with one extended permit for unisex shooting for $32.
All hunting must take place within one of the extended shooting ranges.
This differs from the statewide hunting regulations in Maine that govern deer hunting with firearms and archery (bows and bows), which allow all hunters to harvest one buck or one deer without a horn. However, people selected in a lottery last month for a new permit without a horn — once claimed and paid for — can kill a hornless deer in a designated Wildlife Management Area and also reap a profit anywhere in the state.
Additional passes without pods for firearms and seasons/archery/crossbow — which also cost $12 — will be available online on a first-come-first-served basis, starting at 9 a.m. on October 5.
More areas have been added to the expanded shooting program over the past 20 years and some limits have been modified. Some of the areas include areas in and around Greater Bangor, Bucksport, Castane, Camden, Waterville, Augusta, Lewiston, Portland and Elliott.
Extended shooting ranges are often found in residential areas interspersed with small wooded areas. Many of Maine’s coastal islands, which may be more difficult to reach, are also part of an expanded archery program.
One of the benefits of the program is reducing human conflicts among deer in developed areas, Pepper said, and was among the reasons for starting the program. However, DIF&W does not have any specific goals to remove deer or reduce urban conflict, so this is more of a side benefit for additional hunting opportunities.
Despite the benefits of an extended shooting season, it accounts for a small portion of Maine’s total deer harvest. Over the past 10 years, an average of 1,589 deer were taken during the three-month season.
The highest harvest of that period came in 2020, when poachers killed 1,989 deer as part of the special season.
In contrast, hunters in all seasons killed 272,598 deer from 2012-21, with an average of 27,260. This means that the extended shooting season accounts for just under 6 percent of all deer harvested in Maine.
Hunters are encouraged to obtain permission from the landowner before hunting in the extended shooting areas, especially since the season often involves closer proximity to homes.