Sixteen-year-old Izaac Hatt finished his deer season just a few hours after he started, but he ended with a bang.

The Fairfield teen shot a 217-pound buck with an impressive 8-point rack with at least a 20-inch spread around 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the first day of Maine’s firearm deer season.

Hatt was hunting in the Kennebec Highlands public preserve in Mount Vernon with his girlfriend Jocelyn Harton and her father, Sterling, when he saw the big deer.

“I saw how big his rack was, and I knew I would make it happen,” Hatt said. He knocked the buck down with a single shot of his .308 rifle, but had to shoot it another time to finish it off.

It took Hatt and the others a while to drag the deer a half-mile through the woods to the waiting pickup truck so he could tag and register the kill.

“Everyone was all jealous of him at the tagging station,” Sterling Harton said.

On Sunday afternoon, the deer was hanging upside down from a tree behind Sterling Harton’s home in Benton. Izaac was getting ready to cart the animal away to Clinton to be butchered. Jody Lane, Izaac’s father, estimated the family would get at least 30 pounds of ground meat, sausages and other cuts from the buck.

Hunters who shoot deer that weigh over 200 pounds dressed can qualify to join the Biggest Bucks in Maine Club and get an official patch from the Maine Sportsman, a hunting and fishing magazine.

Hatt has bagged a deer in each of the past three years and came close to getting a 200-pound buck last year, but now he officially has bragging rights.

“I’ve shot one like that, but it doesn’t happen every year,” Sterling Harton said.

On Saturday, thousands of Maine hunters got up before dawn, put on long johns, camouflage clothing and blaze orange and spread out into the woods, swamps and fields for the opening day of firearm deer season. Open season for non-residents starts Monday.

Hunters are required to register their kills at certified tagging stations, usually small village markets and hunting supply stores, convenient places to fill up on breakfast before heading into the field or to get snacks and a drink at the end of the day.

Susan Thomas, at the Canaan Superette, said hunters tagged 17 deer Saturday, mostly from the Clinton area. Those included a 220-pound buck, another contender for the Biggest Bucks in Maine Club. Other hunters’ day didn’t go as well, Thomas added.

“I heard from a lot of guys that they didn’t see any,” she said.

It was also a busy day at the Albion Corner Store, about 20 miles south of the Superette. Sean Keefe, who bought the store with his wife, Charlotte, a few weeks ago, said the first day was “extremely busy” starting off with an early morning hunters’ breakfast. The store tagged 17 deer Saturday and one more Sunday morning. The woman who tagged the deer Sunday shot it Saturday but couldn’t get to it by the time it got dark, Keefe said. The store’s Facebook page featured photos of pleased hunters who had come in to get their kills tagged.

Other tagging stations reported average numbers. At D&L Country Store in Oakland, five deer were tagged Saturday including Hatt’s big buck, numbers that were in line with other years, said Dawn Vasvary, who answered the phone Sunday morning.

Eleven deer were tagged at Audette’s in Winthrop, an “about average” number said Dan, an employee who wouldn’t give his last name. Those 11, however, included a buck that weighed 192 pounds and a rare piebald doe, he said.

Charlene Warren, who works at Sweet Dreams, an ice cream shop and market in Smithfield, said hunters had tagged 12 deer at the store. “I think that is the most we’ve ever had on our first day,” Warren said.

But a few miles to the east, in Sidney, the situation was different. At the Middle Road General Store, Randy, who did not give his last name, said there were only seven deer tagged at the store compared to the 20 or so it usually sees on opening day.

“Slowest year yet,” he said. “It could be the weather, it could be anything, right?”

At Jack’s Trading Post on Route 4 in Farmington, the count was also down from previous years, said Cheryl Wells. The store tagged seven bucks compared to the 10 to 15 it usually does, she said.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife estimates that 160,000 people hunt deer in Maine, more than half the approximately 224,000 registered hunters in the state. According to the department, the number of resident hunting licenses has increased every year since 2005. Last year hunters killed 22,490 deer, and roughly three-quarters were killed during the regular firearm season. There are an estimated 210,000 deer in Maine.

This year, the department reduced the number of any-deer permits that let hunters shoot antlerless deer from 37,185 in 2014 to 28,770, according to a recent news release from the department.

Back in Benton, Izaac Hatt was wrestling his big buck onto the back of a four-wheeler and getting ready to bring it to the butcher. Nichole Lane, his mother, said Izaac is part of a strong hunting tradition that runs through both sides of his family. Her son has been hunting since he was 10 years old, Nichole said.

While he finally got his trophy buck Saturday, Hatt came close last year, bagging a buck just a dozen or so pounds shy of the 200-pound mark. In previous years, he’s racked up other kills, including a six-point buck, his father said.

“He’s making a habit of it,” Jody Lane said.

Even though he closed out his deer season on the first day, Izaac Hatt wasn’t worried about getting bored. Asked how he was going to spend the rest of the season, he answered with two words: “Bird hunting.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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