A Waterville man was wounded in the hand Saturday when a gun discharged while he and his hunting buddy were unloading a canoe.

Saturday was the first day of the firearms deer season for Maine residents.

Keith Inman and his hunting partner, Breck Ludden, were unloading their boat a mile or more from the Peltoma Bridge launch site on the Sebasticook River outside of Pittsfield when the incident occurred at around 7:15 a.m.

Inman apparently grasped the loaded gun by the barrel, but it discharged when the lower portion of the gun struck the side of the canoe, according to Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Inman reportedly was injured between the thumb and index finger, however the responding warden said the situation could have been much more serious — and potentially fatal — had the shot passed just a few inches away, Turcotte said.

Inman was treated at Sebasticook Valley Hospital.

“The wardens say never travel with a loaded gun, whether it be in your car, on your person or in your boat,” Turcotte said. “Wait to load it when you are ready” to hunt.

Turcotte said Saturday’s incident was the fourth hunting-related injury in Maine during the past month.

Maine’s firearms season for deer continues through Nov. 29 and is followed by the statewide muzzleloader season from Dec. 1 through 6.

DIF&W biologists expect lower harvest numbers this year as a result of the severe winter, which thinned the deer herd in many areas.