AUGUSTA  — Deer hunting season gets under way Saturday for Maine residents amid optimism that a mild winter combined with efforts to rebuild the whitetail herd will improve prospects for the thousands looking for a trophy.

Maine resident hunters get a head start on the firearms season over nonresidents, who can join the hunt beginning Monday. The season ends for all Nov. 24, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

About 203,000 licenses were issued to resident and nonresident hunters last season, but figures for this year are incomplete, officials said.

Hunters are permitted to take one antlered deer annually in Maine, while hunters with any-deer permits are allowed to take either one antlered deer or one antlerless deer.

A total of 34,160 any-deer, or doe, permits have been issued for 2012 in nearly half the state’s wildlife management districts, an increase from the 26,390 any-deer permits issued in 2011, according to the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The increased allocation comes amid efforts by the department to rebuild a deer herd that has been battered by harsh winters and predators, especially coyotes. The hardest-hit regions were northern, eastern and western Maine. But there’s optimism in the air as the new season gets under way.

“The deer herd had a pretty easy winter of it last year,” said fish and game spokesman Doug Rafferty. And then, an early spring enhanced summer forage for the deer, biologists say.

The increase in any-deer permits reflects improved methods of estimating where deer are. In the meantime, the state is making progress on rebuilding the herd through such efforts as encouraging protection of deer yards, or protected wintering areas, and stepped-up predation-control efforts, efforts, Rafferty said.

The statewide muzzleloader season begins Nov. 26 and ends Dec. 1 in some management districts and Dec. 8 in others.

Hunters who bag a deer may donate meat to food kitchens, shelters and other charitable organizations through the Hunters for the Hungry program.

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