Brandon Zalegowski is a clerk at the Middle Road General Store in Sidney. His duties include weighing the deer that hunters bring to the store’s tagging station.

Since rifle season opened Oct. 29, deer have been arriving at the store in ample numbers, Zalegowski said.

“It’s been pretty good,” he said. “So far, it’s been going about as good as the past two seasons.”

On opening day alone, the store weighed 20 deer, and all but two were bucks.

The preliminary harvest numbers are about what the state expected, said Lee Kantar, state deer and moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The state is projecting that 17,000 deer will be harvested statewide in 2011, which is fewer than the past two years. In 2010, the statewide harvest was 20,063. In 2009, the harvest was 18,092.

This year, Maine issued 46 percent fewer hunting permits than 2010.

The state’s yearly harvest projections are based on a combination of harvest data from the previous seven years, the number of permits issued and the severity of winter from previous years.

“That’s kind of a mathematical summary of things, and that’s how we project the harvest,” he said. “The bottom line is our annual projections are usually pretty good.”

Nonetheless, Kantar said the 2011 season is off to a solid start.

“I worked opening day. I thought it went pretty well,” he said.

“I have been a bit surprised, perhaps pleased, that there have been some nice bucks taken this early in the season.”

In central Maine, three big bucks have been taken during the past week — a 282-pounder, a 262-pounder and a 206-pounder, based on dressed weight.

Kantar said those kills buck the trend.

“Early in November, you tend to see younger animals — the yearlings — taken, and you tend to see bigger bucks come in later in the month,” he said.

Weather has also contributed to an enjoyable start to the hunt, particularly the early-season snowstorm, Kantar said.

“It’s been a really nice week to be out hunting,” he said. “It’s been cold weather, and some of the snow has certainly lingered. I think that’s probably gotten people excited because it gives them that extra ability as far as tracking is concerned.”

James Christianson, owner of Christianson Taxidermy in Mount Vernon, said it’s too early to tell how the rest of the season will shape up.

“It’s pretty early,” he said. “I mean, I’ve got deer in already. But, it’s too soon to tell if the harvest will be down.”

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