LINCOLN, Maine — Thomas Sutherland of Lincoln had his Stevens 20-gauge shotgun. His daughter Tammy Libby had her Remington .223-caliber rifle between them in his pickup truck.
A few car lengths away at the Why Not Stop? convenience store on Route 6, East Millinocket residents Donald Tibbitts Sr. and his son Donald Jr. had their Remington .308-caliber rifle and a shotgun in Tibbetts Sr.’s pickup truck. Inside the store, Pat Bailey and John Williams of Pittsfield were just returning from hunting.
Saturday marked the first day of the firearms deer-hunting season for Maine residents. The regular firearms season, which includes nonresidents, begins today and continues until Nov. 29.
Officials reported only a few hunting-related incidents around the state.
Everybody at the Why Not Stop? wore orange or camouflage vests, hats, sweat shirts and other hunting garb, but nobody expected to find many deer this weekend.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a great season,” Sutherland, 58, said. “A lot of the deer got killed off this winter. The snow was so heavy that they starved.”
“And a lot also got killed along the highway,” added his granddaughter Ashley Libby, 13, of Lincoln, in reference to a tree cutback on Interstate 95 in early spring that lured many deer onto the highway in search of fresh food.
“I do quite a lot of exploring up in northern Maine, and I haven’t seen many deer at all,” the elder Tibbitts said.
Hunters harvested almost 29,000 deer last year, and about 4,000 fewer are expected to be taken this hunting season because of the harshness of last winter, said Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Thousands of hunters were trudging into the woods last weekend in search of deer and other game. As of Sunday evening, officials had reported just a few incidents.
One man, 59-year-old Keith Inman of Waterville, suffered a wound to his left hand when a gun discharged while he and his hunting partner were unloading their canoe.
The men were disembarking from their canoe about two miles upstream from the Peltoma Bridge in the Sebasticook River near Pittston when Inman’s friend passed a gun to him. Inman grasped the gun by the barrel but the other end struck the side of the boat, causing the gun to discharge, according to Turcotte.
The shot passed between Inman’s thumb and index finger, but the bullet missed doing much greater damage by only a few inches, Turcotte said. Inman was treated at Sebasticook Valley Hospital and released.
“The wardens say never travel with a loaded gun, whether it be in your car, on your person or in your boat,” Turcotte said. “Wait to load it when you are ready” to hunt.
A Raymond man, meanwhile, died after suffering an apparent medical emergency while hunting with a group near Troy on Saturday.
Hunting party members went looking for John Pellerin after they had not seen him in some time. They found the 74-year-old Pellerin slumped over the handlebars of his ATV. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
State police Trooper Darren Vittum said it appeared that Pellerin died of a heart attack or other natural causes.
As many as 200,000 hunters will hunt in Maine woods this season, state officials have said. Only 51,850 any-deer permits were awarded this year, compared with 66,000 last year, and no permits were allotted in 18 of the state’s 29 wildlife management districts.
BDN writer John Holyoke contributed to this report.