Cathy DeMerchant makes a trigger-pulling gesture while telling the story of how she got her 148 pound deer Saturday morning. She had it weighed at Tobey’s Grocery in China. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

SOUTH CHINA — Heather Rodrigue peered up at the digital scale outside Tobey’s Grocery as it registered a hefty 186 pounds for her bloodied five-point buck.

The tagging station was busy Saturday morning as newly shot deer were coming in back to back on the first day of firearm deer hunting season for Mainers.

“That’s my biggest yet. No wonder he was so hard to get out of the woods,” Rodrigue said after her 15-year-old son, Dalton Morang, helped her drag the deer out of her mid-sized SUV. She had shot the buck just before 8 a.m. Dominic Rodrigue, an employee of Tobey’s dressed in a “Where’s Waldo” Halloween costume, reset the scale and hoisted the deer to be weighed.

It came out of the SUV a lot easier than it did out of the woods, Rodrigue said. She had to call Dalton for help dragging the big deer approximately 500 yards out of the woods. She said she only weighs 160 pounds and Dalton only about 110, so it was a back-breaking workout to get the 186-pounder to her vehicle. Dalton plans to hunt this year, too, but Rodrigue said he’s not an early riser so he didn’t join her on the Saturday morning hunt, until she called for help hauling the deer.

She shot the deer on wildlife management land in China. Rodrigue planned to take it to a local meat cutter to be butchered into steaks, burger and jerky. She said Dalton is a big fan of jerky, and buying the commercial type of jerky can get expensive.

Rodrigue, who works for the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said its seems likely more people may hunt this year, looking for something active to do during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hunter Heather Rodrigue, left, looks up at the scale as store employee Dominic Rodrigue weighs her deer Saturday at Tobey’s Grocery in China. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Seth Cash had no problems hauling his deer to Tobey’s to be tagged and weighed, using his Kioti tractor to carry the deer with its front bucket, about a mile and a half from his home in Palermo. It weighed 124 pounds. And he planned to return to the woods later this hunting season, as this year he has a “bonus tag” from the state allowing him to also shoot a doe, in addition to his one usual bagged deer.

He said venison is his family’s main source of red meat, so he was glad to get a deer so soon after the season started. He plans to process the meat himself after letting the gutted carcass hang for about 10 days, as long as it stays cold enough to do so. Hanging the meat, he said, allows it to age and lose some of its gameiness.

“I enjoy (hunting), but I have a family, so I can’t spend all month out in the woods hunting, so I’m glad to get this one,” said Cash, whose brother helped him weigh the deer.

Cash said the deer would be processed into sausage and burger, as well as cubed meat they plan to can using a pressure cooker which both cooks and preserves the meat.

“The presentation is terrible — it looks kind of like dog food,” he said of the canned venison. “But it’s really good.”

Dominic Rodrigue said Tobey’s had tagged about 10 deer Saturday morning.

One of them was brought in by an exuberant Cathy DeMerchant, who shot a 148-pound buck on her family’s land surrounding their Vassalboro home. Her husband and their boys hunted on  a larger parcel of family-owned land in Palermo.

Store employee Dominic Rodrigue, left, looks up at the scale Saturday while weighing Cathy DeMerchant’s 148 pound deer at Tobey’s Grocery in China. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“He dropped like a shot,” DeMerchant said of the deer she shot from a tree stand. “It was pretty exciting. But then I was like, what do I do now?”

Unable to get the deer into a sled to pull it out of the woods, she texted her husband, John, for help hauling the deer out of the swampy area where it dropped. She said three does passed her before the buck came along.

DeMerchant and others agreed hunting is something you can do like you normally would do, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

She said her family is big on the outdoors anyway, but during the pandemic they spent more time than usual in the woods. She doesn’t waste time, also bagging a bear this year on the opening day of that season.

She said their hunts start with a prayer, asking for safety and thanking God for being able to enjoy his bounty.

Tristan Pellerin of Sidney shot a five-point, roughly 130-pound buck on his stepdad’s land in Augusta.

He left to go hunting around 5:30 a.m. and shot the deer around 9:30, bagging the buck after it approached him shortly after some does passed by. He said hunting during the pandemic didn’t seem any different than hunting other years. He joked there is no need to wear a mask in the woods.

He also plans to process the deer himself, something the 23-year-old learned to do from hunting when he was growing up.

Saturday was open to deer hunting by Maine residents only. The season opens up to all licensed hunters Monday, and ends Nov. 28.

 


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