It’s the day thousands of Maine outdoors enthusiasts have been yearning for since late last year. It’s opening day of the firearms hunting season for white-tailed deer.

Archers and crossbow enthusiasts had the first crack at this year’s crop during the expanded archery and regular archery seasons during September and October. And many youngsters 16 and under participated in Youth Deer Day on Oct. 23.

Now, the number of hunters in the woods will increase dramatically as deer enthusiasts attempt to harvest an animal and put some organic, free-range, 100 percent natural meat on the dinner table and in the freezer.

Saturday is reserved for Maine residents only, while folks from outside the state may hunt deer starting on Monday, Nov. 1.

For hunters, there’s nothing quite like the excitement of heading out for a long sit in a stand, a slow, quiet walk in the woods or a stint in a well-placed ground blind on opening day.

Prospects for the 2021 season appear good. That’s coming off last year’s harvest of 33,157 deer, which was the highest total in 18 years.

Nathan Bieber, deer biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said while populations in southern and central Maine are stable, things are more in flux in northern and western regions.

“There should be a lot of deer out there. We’re hoping for a better hunting season in northern Maine,” Bieber said. “For northern Maine hunters last year, the harvest was way down.”

He explained that not only does the population fluctuate more in those areas because of the severity of winter weather, but hunting conditions marked by warmer temperatures and a lack of snow during the season also hampered efforts.

“It makes a lot easier when there’s snow on the ground,” Bieber said. “You want to track, of course, but also if there’s enough snow deer start congregating for the winter early and can start moving towards towns where there’s actually hunters.”

Opening day can be a highly productive one. There hasn’t been much, if any, hunting pressure in most places and discriminating hunters have long since scouted locations where they have seen numerous deer or their target animal on their trail cameras.

Speaking of the weather, Saturday looks to be a day of varied conditions depending upon your location.

Aroostook County hunters will be treated to a mostly cloudy day with a high temperature of 50 degrees and light winds. In Greater Bangor, it will be cloudy and 56 while southern Maine is expecting rain and a high of 53.

More people had more time to hunt last year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which, combined with the health of the state’s deer herd, helped facilitate a higher take.

Another key factor was the number of any-deer permits issued in 2020. The state again established a record by offering up 153,910 “doe tags” this year, which is another harbinger of good deer numbers and a bigger harvest.

For all deer hunters, the focus heading out on Saturday or in the coming weeks, must be on enjoying the experience safely.

Maine had two hunting-related shootings last year in which someone was injured, both of which were self-inflicted wounds.

Hunters should make sure they know the legal hunting hours for each day during the season. Hunting is allowed from a half-hour before sunrise in Bangor until a half-hour after sunset — regardless of where in the state you are hunting.

So whether you’re in Fort Kent or South Berwick, and no matter what your weather app lists as the times for sunrise and sunset in those locations, legal shooting hours are still based on Bangor. Click here to see the chart that lists legal hunting times for 2021-22.

Keep in mind that in some conditions and locations, despite what the clock says, there still may not be enough light to hunt safely. That includes positively identifying your target and what lies beyond it.

In case you were wondering, legal shooting on Saturday, Oct. 30, begins at 6:41 a.m. and ends at 5:56 p.m.

If you need a little inspiration — or at least a story of a successful opening-day deer hunt — check out this story from 2020.

Good luck, have fun and stay safe out there!

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Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...