Double Up on Bow Tags

Published by Bob Humphrey on

Deer Bowhunting

Double Up on Bow Tags
By Bob Humphrey

I was playing with some numbers the other day for a column and came upon an interesting idea. But first a little background.

State deer biologists/managers are charged with the sometimes unenviable task of stewarding their respective state’s deer herd, while at the same time trying to please as many of their constituents (read: license-buying hunters) as possible. But like the old saying goes: You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Some deer hunters prefer quantity over quality. Some hunt with bows, others use guns; some rifles, others muzzleloaders. All want a larger slice of the pie and none want to give up what they already have. So no matter what the wildlife managers do, they’re going to piss some special interest group off.

The task becomes even more difficult in a deer impoverished state like Maine, where in 2016 an estimated 130,000 hunters killed a grand total of 23,512 deer for a paltry 18 percent success rate. That 23.5k – our pie – was apportioned among hunters as follows:

  • Regular Firearms – 20,400 (85%)
  • Expanded Archery – 1,276 (5%)
  • Muzzleloader – 933 (4%)
  • Youth – 659 (3%)
  • Regular Archery – 469 (2%)

Let’s look at that last one more closely. During the statewide regular archery season, which runs roughly the month of October, Maine bowhunters killed fewer than 500 deer.

There is a good deal of disincentive to participate in the statewide archery season, particularly if you are not exclusively an archer. Except for the expanded archery zones and seasons, Maine is a one-deer state. Kill your deer in October and your deer season is over, no gun hunting, no muzzleloader hunting for you.

Additional disincentive comes from average success rates for bowhunters, particularly those outside the expanded archery zones. Archery license sales numbers are not readily available (though they should be, and should be part of every annual deer harvest report) so I had to make some assumptions.

Nationwide, success rates vary considerably but 12% is probably a fair average. But if we see that Maine firearms hunters are only averaging 18% success, we should probably reduce that for Maine bowhunters to around 6%. With that assumption, we can then calculate about 8,000 bowhunters. That sounds high so I’m dropping it to 6,000, just because that was the last number I heard when archery license sales used to be provided. Multiply that by $26 for an archery license and the State is making about $156,000 a year off bowhunters who account for 2% of the annual deer kill.

Suppose, for a moment, we offered those hunters the chance to take a second deer – one buck and one doe a year, by archery, outside the expanded zone. All they have to do is buy another permit. Not all would, but let’s say all 469 successful hunters did. And if they experienced a similar 6% success rate, that would account for another 28 deer being killed, for a grand total statewide archery kill of just under 500 deer – still less than any other special interest group.

Let’s look at it another way. Maine, like many states, manages their deer herd through the proportion of any-deer (doe, or antlerless) permits allotted each year. In 2016, 45,755 doe permits were issued to meet a doe harvest objective of 5,297 adult does. Ultimately, 6,382 antlerless deer were killed, a difference of 10,085. So, the State’s “fudge factor” – their allowable margin of error on predicted deer kill is more than double the total statewide archery kill. That means the increased deer kill resulting from allowing successful regular archery hunters a second tag would not be statistically significant.

Admittedly, there would have to be some tweaking. Either-sex hunting and a second deer would not be allowed in deer management districts in which no any-deer permits are issued, as is currently the case. And there is probably some other minutia I’m overlooking. But it meets a goal and a need that has specifically been identified by IFW: Creating more recreational opportunity to promote greater participation. It does so at very little cost – a minuscule percentile of the annual deer kill, while also generating more revenue. Maybe it’s time Maine took a closer look at carving off a very tiny sliver of the pie (crumbs, really) for the statewide bowhunters.


Kevin Knight · October 26, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Very good idea , I was one last year who took a deer statewide and lost the opportunity to rifle and muzzleload . I believe that if you allow bowhunters to harvest a second deer that would be more beneficial all around . Thanks for the support

    Tom Robinson · October 26, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Excellent article. I don’t bother bow hunting outside the Expanded zone in October for the very reason I wouldn’t be able to rifle hunt in November.

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