The last two deer hunting seasons, Ron Hodge, of Winthrop, passed up shots at relatively small deer early in the season, hoping and waiting for a chance at a big buck. He ended up with nothing.

So this year, he didn’t wait when opportunity arose early on the first day of hunting season for adult Maine residents.

About 10 minutes into his 2012 deer season, after he’d issued just two “bleating doe” calls on a small, canlike deer-calling device from a tree stand in the Route 135 area of Winthrop, a buck that ended up dressing out at 128 pounds emerged in the foggy woods below his perch.

“He came running right in. I was quite happy. I didn’t want to get skunked again this year,” Hodge said. “This will help make up for moose season. I spent a whole week hunting and never saw a moose. I spent $400 just on gas.”

He shot the deer shortly after the season started Saturday, and by late morning he’d had it tagged and was at Ballard Meats and Seafood in Manchester, asking veteran meat-cutter Brandon Fike to cut it up into steaks and stew meat, and ground up into hamburger.

Fike, who has been cutting meat at Ballard’s for some 24 years, went to work on the deer, which joined seven others that had come in by 11 a.m., with speed and precision, lopping off its hooves and head and skinning it in just a few minutes, first on a wooden v-shaped table, then on a pair of meat hooks hanging from the ceiling.

Fike said the deer were coming in at a fairly good pace. He estimated Ballard’s would have around 25 by the end of the day. If so, Fike will lose the couple of bucks — make that dollars — he’d wagered in a pool in which everyone tried to guess how many deer they’d get on the first day of the season. He had guessed 11.

At Hussey’s General Store in Windsor, clerk Larry Casey had tagged just five deer by noon.

“I’ve talked to a few of the unlucky ones. They said it has been bad. It’s so foggy, it’s hard to see anything in the woods,” Casey said. “The ones who got one said the deer just came right up to them.”

Nat Crosby, of Wayne, said when he first saw the deer he ended up shooting and taking to Ballard’s, it was so foggy he couldn’t tell at first whether it had antlers. The deer approached him three or four times without spotting him. When it got about 30 yards away from him, he saw its antlers and shot, striking the deer in its shoulder.

Peter Quirion, of Augusta, got his 120-pound buck in the Church Hill Road area of the city, from a tree stand where he has hunted for about 20 years. He asked to have it cut up into steaks, breakfast sausage and hamburger, which he planned to share with his family, including his three 17-year-old daughters, who he said don’t hunt but like venison.

Clifford Winter drove from the coastal community of Nobleboro to have his 142-pound buck cut at Ballard’s. Blood had run out of the deer carcass and into the back of his minivan. He said he and his wife would eat the meat themselves.

“I’ve been using Ballard’s for a long time. These people do a good job,” he said, explaining why he had traveled so far.

Fike said last Saturday, a junior-hunter-only day, a youth brought in a 190-pound deer.

Casey said a hunter brought a 202-pound, dressed-out deer to Hussey’s to be weighed. The deer had about 10 points on an impressive set of antlers, Casey said. He gave the hunter a card he can mail in to The Maine Sportsman magazine to get a patch indicating, as someone who shot a deer above 200 pounds, he’s a member of the Biggest Bucks in Maine Club.

Maine residents had the woods to themselves Saturday. Nonresidents may hunt deer starting Monday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]