Jodi McCafferty with an 8-point buck she shot in Buckfield. Submitted photo

BUCKFIELD — The buck came out of the woods at about 5:20 p.m. Nov. 6 tempted by four does that were already standing in the field. 

For eight minutes, Jodi McCafferty watched the buck. This was the moment she’d been waiting for since 1999 when she first started hunting. But she wasn’t sure she had a clear shot. 

The does began to get restless. McCafferty, an educational technician at the local high school, knew that if they bolted, the buck would run as well. With the end of the day fast approaching, McCaffery had to make a decision. 

“I knew I had to take my shot,” she said. “The adrenaline rushing through me, I leaned into the tree for support because I was shaking so much. Because of my position, I had to turn my gun sideways. I said to myself, ‘the crosshair is the crosshair, no matter how I hold this gun.’ I let out a breath and squeezed the trigger and shot him in the chest.” 

The buck ran a short distance but then went down. The animal McCafferty thought was sporting a six-point rack was actually an eight-pointer weighing out at 190 pounds. It was her first buck. 

“I’m still so pumped about it,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to go to work and share my hunting story with my students.” 

McCafferty was hunting with a .270 caliber scoped rifle. 

So far, the 2021 deer hunting season is off to a safe and fruitful start. There had been no hunting related mishaps by the end of the day Friday. Tagging stations and wildlife officials alike reported vigorous numbers across the board. 

“Last year, we had one or our highest deer harvests since the early 2000s,” said Mark Latti, communications director with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. “We expect the deer harvest to be a little higher than last year because we issued more any-deer permits. That seems to be tracking true. Totals through last weekend were about 1,000 deer higher this year than last —approximately 16,500 deer taken this year compared to 15,500 last year at this time. We expect the deer harvest this year to be in the mid to high 30,000s, compared to last years 33,159 total.” 

At tagging stations across the area, that trend seemed evident. 

At Sturdy Hardware, a registered tagging station in Sabattus, Jeff Sturtevant said late Thursday afternoon that he had already tagged 199 deer since the season opened. With more than two weeks left to go in the season, he was expecting the numbers this year to be much higher. 

“Last year, I tagged 205, all the way through muzzle loading season,” Sturtevant said. 

Sturtevant said he has seen both bucks and does, but it’s the bucks that stand out. 

“The biggest one we’ve weighed so far is 221.2,” he said. “We weighed and tagged one the other day that was 216. Then we had one this morning that was not real heavy, but the rack was magnificent. It was still in velvet, which is incredible. That was a 10-pointer.” 

All indications are that bucks are getting into full rut right now, which means they’re out to mate. Rutting bucks tend to become more bold and often become active in daylight hours, making them easier for hunters to spot and kill. 

Sturtevant says he has seen evidence that mating season is upon us in the animals brought into his station. 

“Right now, all their necks are crazy swollen, so it’s right in the rut,” he said. “It surprises me that they’d be in a rut this hard so early.” 

Connor Rouillard, 23, of Weld, would agree with that. On Thursday, early in the morning, he shot a 190-pound buck on family land in Franklin County and said the effects of rut were evident. 

“I had the day off from work so I was in the woods 10 minutes before the sun came up,” Rouillard says. “The deer came in at 8:20 a.m. He came looking for does. He was on a mission.” 

Rouillard hunts with a 30-06 rifle. The buck taken down on Thursday wasn’t his first, but it was his biggest to date. When he shot the buck, the weather was reasonably warm and sunny, unlike a day later when it was pouring rain and miserable. 

“Luckily, the season is all over for me now,” he said. “I put in a lot of long days. It pays to stay in the woods from sunup to sundown. Now I can focus on work.” 

Bigger is better

Minot Country Store, a tagging station in Minot, tagged its first deer on Oct. 23, a day designated as Youth Day, on which only kids under 16 years old are allowed to hunt. 

The taggers at the store had not tallied up their numbers yet, but one of them said she was sure that well over 100 deer had been brought in for weighing and tagging, including one buck weighing in at 209 pounds. 

Like other tagging stations, the store holds a “biggest deer” pool every year, to be awarded when the dust settles at the end of the season. 

Kyle Farrington of Farmington poses with his eight-point buck shot early in the 2021 deer hunting season. Submitted photo

Latti expects there to be some big deer recorded this year. 

“It has been a great natural food year,” he said. “Lots of acorns in the woods, and generally that translates into some larger deer taken by hunters.” 

At Brettun’s Variety, a store and tagging station in Livermore, it was estimated that an average of five deer a day have been brought in for tagging since the start of the season. Most of them have been does and most were shot in the evening. 

But for a lot of hunters, it’s been all about the bucks, and the bigger the buck, the more meat and prestige. 

Kyle Farrington, 24, of Farmington, is no stranger to bringing down deer, but this season, he managed a personal best when he shot an eight-point, 213-pound buck in New Sharon after hours of tracking the animal. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods over the years and have had the opportunity to harvest a lot of quality bucks,” said Farrington, who was hunting with a .270 Remington 750 Woodsmaster. “But to be able to harvest a deer over 200 pounds is any hunters dream — being able to join Maine’s big buck club and get the patch is very humbling.” 

In Maine, as in most places, deer hunting as a family excursion is as much about tradition as it is about venison. Farrington was mindful of that when he took down his buck. 

“I was fortunate enough to share this day with my father,” he said, “who along with my grandfather have shared a lot of memories together in the Maine fall woods.” 

Last year in Maine, the biggest buck recorded was a 262-pound animal shot by a Wallagrass man in that area, according to the Maine Sportsman. Wallagrass is in northern Aroostook County, near the Canadian border. 

‘A good season’

In Maine, regular hunting season runs from Nov. 1 until the 27th, although Oct. 30 is set aside as a hunting day for Maine residents only. Muzzleloading season runs from the end of November into early December, after which final numbers will be tallied. 

Some numbers have already been finalized, however, including the numbers of hunters out in the woods. 

This year, 118,731 resident licenses have been issued, which is 0.5% higher than last year and nearly 10% more than in 2019. 

Another 23,761 licenses were issued to nonresidents, marking a 10% rise over last year’s numbers and a 19% increase over those in 2019. 

In all, 142,492 hunting licenses were issued this year in Maine, 2% higher than last year and 11% higher than in 2019. 

Connor Rouillard of Weld shot this 190-pound buck in Canton on Nov. 11. Submitted photo

Those numbers reflect seasonal hunting licenses, Latti points out. They do not include lifetime hunting licenses. But the rising number of licenses issued mark a trend of more people getting out into the woods, Latti said, and he credits part of that to — what else? — COVID-19. 

“We are seeing an increase in not only the number of hunters, but the number of people enjoying the outdoors,” he said. “We have seen an increase in the number of hikers, boaters, anglers, ATVers, and hunters during the pandemic. People find comfort in the outdoors, it’s beneficial for your physical and mental health and we are seeing more people outside during the pandemic.” 

There have been no indications that poaching is up this season, Latti said. In fact, when deer are abundant, as they are this year, illegal poaching tends to drop. 

Better news still, there had been no hunting-related accidents. 

“Hunting continues to be a very safe sport, despite the perception otherwise,” Latti said. “We have not had any hunting-related shootings during the deer season this year. Generally, there is only a handful each year, in the single digits, and half of those are generally self-inflicted.” 

By and large, the weather has cooperated with hunting season as well, with most days since the start of it being unseasonably warm. 

“The conditions haven’t been horrible, and since I’m a fair weather hunter, I didn’t have too many freezing cold hunting days this year,” said McCafferty, who hunts on her own farmland as well as on a neighbor’s abutting land. 

“It’s been a good season,” said Rouillard. 

The season is over for those two because they’ve got their deer already. For those still out in the woods on the hunt, the season continues. 


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