In this photo from Oct. 25, 2021, Julian Henderson (right) of Camden and his father Aaron Henderson are pictured with the doe Julian shot on Youth Deer Day. Credit: Courtesy of Aaron Henderson

Oh, to be 12 years old again.

If that were the case, I would want to be no place else on Saturday morning than in the woods, rifle in hand, a loved one at my side.

Saturday is Youth Deer Hunting Day in Maine and if you’re 16 or younger, that means you get the first crack at a white-tail as part of firearms season.

It’s an exciting day for youngsters, who have a dedicated opportunity to share time in the woods with a parent, relative or friend doing what kids statewide have done for generations.

The importance of the dynamics at work during Youth Deer Hunting Day cannot be overstated. For many, it will be the first time they will have the opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and sensations of hunting.

That initial exposure to the sport, while being given patient and supportive guidance from an adult, most likely will light the fire in youngsters to embrace a fulfilling lifetime activity.

Young hunters also have the chance to learn about deer hunting from someone they look up to, and that can lead to a deep bond.

Most kids who have already hunted won’t need much prompting Saturday morning to get out of bed, gear up and head out to a treestand or ground blind. It will be like trying to sleep on Christmas Eve, knowing that morning will be filled with surprises and smiles in the presence of family members.

In this photo from Oct. 25, 2021, Alexa Murray (left) of Addison harvested her first deer, this six-point buck, alongside her future stepfather Dean Barrett (rear) and her mother, Lindsey Lewis. Credit: Courtesy of Ripley Strout

Some serious deer hunters, young people included, have already been out in the woods and fields this month. Many bowhunters and those who shoot a crossbow were able to get the jump on gun hunters during a season that began three weeks ago. Some have already tagged out.

The rest of us are excitedly awaiting Maine residents-only day a week from Saturday, then the full start of the firearms season the following Monday.

Unfortunately, I was late to the deer hunting party. My dad didn’t hunt — although we had always planned to go bird hunting together — and I wasn’t exposed to the sport as a kid.

It wasn’t until 2006, at age 44, that I took the hunter safety course, borrowed a Winchester lever-action .30-30 handed down through three generations of the family of my friends Chris Lander, Bill Lander and Tim Lander, put on my blaze orange hat and vest, and got started.

Every year at this time, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have become a deer hunter. I owe a debt of gratitude to my buddy, former Bangor Daily News Outdoors columnist John Holyoke, for teaching me the ropes — especially in regard to safety and hunting laws. He was a stickler on many important hunting and firearms handling dynamics and for that I am forever grateful.

I can’t help but wonder how many wonderful experiences I missed over the years because I hadn’t been exposed to hunting. Oh, the stories I would be able to tell — which is one of the most fun aspects of the whole thing.

That’s why today I have to smile when I think about the thousands of lucky kids who will be in the woods. Some day, they’ll realize how fortunate they were to have an adult mentor who took the time to share their passion for hunting, their experience and their guidance with them.

Everybody won’t tag out on Saturday, not even close, but it won’t matter that much. Most will be able to look back on the day and talk about all the cool things they saw and heard.

And they’ll be clamoring to do it again at the earliest possible opportunity.

Youth hunters and their non-hunting adult companions need to be aware of some special rules in place for Youth Deer Hunting Day.

Junior hunters may take one antlered deer or one antlerless deer statewide, the latter without an antlerless deer permit. A junior hunter who harvests an antlered deer on Saturday is not allowed to shoot another deer this season, unless they have an antlerless deer permit or participate in the expanded archery season (designated areas only) with appropriate expanded archery permits.

If a junior hunter shoots an antlerless deer without an antlerless deer permit on Youth Deer Hunting Day, they are prohibited from taking an antlered deer (buck) or additional antlerless deer unless they have antlerless deer permits or take part in the expanded archery season with such permits.

Children that have not reached their 16th birthday must have a junior hunting license to hunt and there is no minimum age to purchase a junior hunting license.

Adult supervisors also are limited in terms of what they are allowed to do when accompanying a youth hunter. The adult is not allowed to carry a firearm or any means to kill. The exception is a sidearm to be used for protection.

A junior hunter who wounds a deer also is responsible for dispatching it. The adult may not do so on their behalf.

The bottom line is, today is the day many Maine youngsters will begin experiencing the joys of being outside and hunting deer. It’s a time-honored tradition, one that will create lasting memories and hopefully an appreciation for our natural resources.

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...