Jeff Sturtevant of Mechanic Falls weighs a deer for a customer at his store, Sturdy Hardware, in Sabattus on Saturday, the first day of hunting season for Mainers using firearms. As of 2 p.m., Sturtevant had weighed about 40 deer, one of which topped the scales at over 190 pounds. Anna Gouveia photo

SABATTUS — The first day of the 2021 deer hunting season may have been hampered by the weather, but not all hunters let it rain on their parade.

The hunting day began early Saturday, a half-hour before sunrise. At Sabattus Deer Processing, the bagged deer, while few, nonetheless came in steadily, dragged from trucks and trunks and weighed. The operation has been a popular spot for hunters during its 22 years in business, only running during the season — about two months total — seven days a week.

Employees had a pool going — $10 an employee — on whether or not they’d break 100. They counted 79 deer by the end of the day.

The turnout, perhaps because of the rain, was not anticipated.

“It’s like tribal knowledge; getting people in touch with their roots,” said Cody Provost, who has worked in the family business for 12 years.  “COVID sort of forced people to develop these skills, so (we) thought that there’d be more people out today,”

The climate plays a large role in hunting, as bad weather discourages both predator and prey from meeting in the woods.

“Two years ago, when we got snow after Thanksgiving, was perfect. Hunting in the snow is a real added advantage since it makes the ground softer to walk on, you make less noise and you can get up close to the deer,” said Provost.

Most processing centers such as the one in Sabattus one do not remove the organs or butcher the meat, instead focusing on removing the antlers and pelt and preparing the catch to be butchered, often becoming steaks, stews, burgers and sausage. Doe steaks are preferred over the buck as they are less lean.

The cost of operating the seasonal business has gone up, according to workers at Sabattus Deer Processing, due to the escalating prices of materials. The cost of gloves and plastic bags, one employee said, is a major factor.

At Brettun’s Variety Store in Livermore, there were only 13 deer tagged by the evening, a far cry from last year’s numbers, which reached almost 40 by midday. “It picks up as the season goes along,” said Brody Guild, an employee. “But the biggest turnout usually is on the first day.”

Data released by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife indicates the state recorded 33,157 deer harvested in 2020, with 109,890 hunting permits issued, almost double what was issued in 2019. The state estimated there are about 290,000 deer in Maine’s woods in 2021, and encouraged residents to register for permits, given the increase in the whitetail deer population.

According to an article by Outdoor Life, for every 10 permits given, one adult doe is harvested.

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