AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Maine is known for its
big deer, and Chandler Woodcock wants everybody to know that
they’re out there. Just not everywhere. But he’s attending to
As the head custodian of all wild things that live on Maine’s
land and in its fresh waters, Woodcock is leading efforts to
restore the state’s cherished big game animal, which once roamed in
greater abundance. Those efforts include some drastic measures,
including limited night hunting of coyotes.
During an interview with The Associated Press, Woodcock pointed
to a map of the state to illustrate where the problem lies.
Envision a huge arc sweeping from the western edge of Maine to the
east. Roughly along that curved rim, and to the north, the deer
numbers have fallen off sharply due to a number of factors,
including severe weather, less natural protection and predators.
Woodcock calls it the “umbrella effect.”
While there are no clear estimates of Maine’s deer population at
present, Woodcock said the number is believed to be down from its
all-time peak by 50 percent. The severity of the decline is
reflected in the deer-harvest totals, which dropped from 29,918 in
2006 to 20,063 in 2010.
For Woodcock, job No. 1 is rebuilding the deer herd, a priority
often mentioned by his boss, Gov. Paul LePage. It also prompted a
major study and action by the Legislature, which passed a bill
calling for a number of moves, including identification and
management of more deer yards, updating deer population goals, and
controlling predators – particularly coyotes.
On the third point, Woodcock said, a working group including
biologists and hunting experts will devise plans to control coyotes
and choose participants in a limited night-hunting program this
fall in targeted areas where the predators are a serious
The department has already slashed any-sex deer permits to
rebuild the herd by 46 percent to 26,390 for this coming fall.
Regaining the numbers will be a long-term project, the
commissioner of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department
“You don’t replenish the deer herd in a year,” he said.
“There has to be some patience, so we’re looking at a 10-year
Beyond rebuilding sheer numbers, the idea is to bolster Maine’s
reputation, which has long been “big woods, big deer,” said
Woodcock. The big deer are still out there, he said, citing one
hunting camp where four big deer – each over 200 pounds and one of
them 260 pounds – were taken last fall.
“Maine’s hunting heritage is significant, and perception drives
outdoor activities,” said Woodcock. “If you think it’s going to
rain, you’re not going to go canoeing. If you think we don’t have a
whole lot of deer, you’re not going to go hunting.”
Maine has 146,000 resident, licensed hunters, and about 30,000
non-residents come to the state for big game. Together, they
represent $280 million to the state’s economy and account for 4,500
A lifelong hunter, angler and outdoorsman who has canoed the
Allagash and St. John rivers, Woodcock is a former high school
teacher and basketball coach in his hometown of Farmington and
other towns. He served in the state Senate and was the Republican
candidate for governor in 2006, losing to Democrat John
He is upbeat about the critical issue of landowner relations,
which he says are generally good, and cites efforts to reel in
youths and women to keep up the numbers of as hunters and
Compared to deer, Maine moose population is more stable,
allowing the state to increase the number of permits by 660 this
past fall to 3,862, said Woodcock. The game department also has
recently made changes in the annual moose-permit drawing to make it
fairer to those who are long-time participants.
Woodcock acknowledges a gradual shift in emphasis within the
department’s constituency from consumptive sports to recreational
outdoor activities like all-terrain vehicle riding, game watching
“Fifty years ago, people didn’t talk about kayaking,” said
Woodcock. But his department is committed to serving what the
commissioner calls a “natural evolution” in outdoor
In the fishery, Woodcock’s main priority is protecting the brook
trout, noting that 96 percent of the native brook trout in the
continental states are in Maine. He also wants to expand landlocked