LIVERMORE — For some hunters, Maine’s firearm deer-hunting season ended nearly as soon as it began.
Marc Rancourt of Canton bagged a seven-point buck at 7:30 Saturday morning, opening day for Maine residents.
“Now I’ve got two weeks off to hunt, but I already got my deer,” Rancourt said at the Brettun’s Variety tagging station in Livermore.
There is a one-deer-per-hunter limit this season. Nonresidents must wait until Monday, Nov. 1, to take their shot at a Maine whitetail.
On a crisp, late-October morning perfectly suited for stalking deer, many hunters were optimistic but uncertain whether this year’s harvest would be much bigger than last, when only 18,092 deer were tagged across the state.
“I was one of the lucky ones last year,” said Jerry Gagnon of Greene, who shot a 130-pound doe Saturday, and tagged it at the Minot Country Store. It was the second year in a row that he’s bagged a deer on opening day.
“I think it’ll be better this year,” he said.
“They’ve got a chance right now. They can at least eat,” said Rancourt’s hunting partner, Craig Poulin of Lewiston.
“Bow hunting last week, I saw more deer than all last year,” Rancourt said. At 194 pounds, his buck was the largest he has brought down.
Thanks to last year’s relatively mild winter, there has been some increase in Maine’s deer herd, said Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. While the deer population is recovering from the two previous harsh winters, “it’s not instantaneous,” she said. It could take 15 to 20 years for deer herds to bounce back, Turcotte said.
Inland Fisheries distributed 48,825 any-deer permits for the 2010 season. They estimate the total harvest for the year will be around 20,900 deer, just a few thousand more than in 2009.
At Brettun’s Variety, hunters tagged at least 11 deer Saturday, with a busy period of back-to-back arrivals around 9 a.m. “It wasn’t like this last year — boom, boom, boom,” said Brettun’s Variety owner Wanda McDonald. “I have a good feeling. I think we’re going to have a good day.”
The Minot Country Store had an even busier day, tagging at least 21 deer. Mary Anne Chabot, an employee at the Minot establishment, reported a rushing wave of blinding orange earlier in the day.
“At about 10 a.m. it was crazy in here — guys trying to get food, guys trying to tag their deer. It’s been pretty exciting,” she said.
In other locations across Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, the excitement level did not crest quite as high.
“It’s better than last year, but it’s more like our average,” said Beth Francis, owner of The Storekeeper, a tagging station in Hebron, having tagged 15 deer for the day. “Lots of people have seen deer, but not many have been able to get them.”
Even at Durham’s Get n’ Go, which tagged eighteen 18 deer during the day, there were “grumblings of, ‘There’s no deer here.’ Or, ‘They’re small,’” said employee Donna Church.
There were no reports of major hunting accidents Saturday, said Turcotte of Inland Fisheries.