FREEDOM — Word spread quickly after someone peeked into the back of Ross Taylor’s pickup truck Saturday morning. It was the sound of the first morning of deer hunting season in Maine.
“Big buck here. A really big one.”
Men in blaze-orange caps and vests tried to look nonchalant as they walked over. Two teams of Unity College students collecting data from the hunt did run.
They were met by 7-year-old Ryan Taylor standing on the tailgate of his father’s truck. This was his first hunt and he was far from their home in Yarmouth. He wasn’t shy.
“My dad got this one at our camp,” said young Taylor. “My dad. I helped him.”
Similar scenes were played out at dozens of deer registration stations throughout Maine. The first day of deer hunting season attracted hunters keeping alive a generations-old tradition of putting venison on their tables.
The talk at the Freedom General Store, west of Belfast and east of Albion, was of economics rather than sport.
A freezer full of deer meat helps everyone’s budget.
Chilly temperatures of 40 degrees or so at sunrise rose rapidly Saturday. Deer were out and moving after the blustery, rainy weather of the day before.
Maine’s hunters were out, too. Butch Clark of Knox was the first to come in shortly after 8 a.m. with a doe thought to be 2 or 3 years old. He didn’t bother to have it weighed. “A bit small to be weighed,” said Brian Clark, 27, ribbing his 51-year-old father. They hunted on their 100 acres.
“Been hunting since I was a little boy,” said Butch Clark. “I like that I’m doing it on my land. I don’t like that I can’t hear them, rustling, like I used to. I’ve got to put my glasses on, too.” He laughed at himself and his age. He got his deer. That’s what mattered.
Richard “Bo” Beausoleil of Whitefield also got a young, small doe of less than 100 pounds. “In a scope, they always look 200 pounds. I look for 2-year-olds. The meat is tender, tasty. I like frying it with peas and onions.”
Mouths started to water listening to his cooking ideas. He’s a firearms instructor at nearby Unity College and director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency. Beausoleil has been teaching the wife of a friend how to hunt.
Josh Thornhill, a 14-year-old student at Mount View High School in Thorndike, got his first deer Saturday, hunting with his father. First shot, only shot at 200 yards. His heart was pounding.
“I took deep breaths to steady myself. I wasn’t getting high hopes this morning.”
Outside the Freedom General Store it was getting busy. Last year on opening day, 12 deer were tagged. Nine deer came through by noon this season. So did a moose. This wildlife management district had 50 moose permits and Saturday was the first day of the November hunt.
Unity College students drew blood from the gutted deer to send to a lab to check for disease. Harvest locations were noted. Teeth were pulled for analysis and measurements were taken.
Levi Soper of Mount Desert Island and a Unity College sophomore looked at Thornhill and remembered his first deer. “My adrenaline was off the top. I didn’t think I got him. I looked at my deer and asked my father: ‘Is he dead?’ My father’s eyes were big and I knew my eyes were big.
“I still have that same sense of remorse. You respect the animal. I use everything from it. Nothing goes to waste.”
As each successful hunting party pulled in front of the general store, owner Paul Flynn walked swiftly out the door. Large buck or small doe, his greeting was the same: Hey, that’s a nice deer. He was host and master of ceremonies, bookkeeper, and usually the one reading off the weights.
Flynn was a banker in another life, on the fast track to more responsibilities, bigger pay and increased stress. “I’m a country banker. I didn’t want to move my family to Portland or to Boston.”
In 1999 he bought the country store. For 15 years he’s tagged deer and moose and turkeys and whatever else is harvested with a permit or license. The banker in him keeps track of the numbers. He posts them near the beer coolers.
His office is an old machinist’s swivel chair. He bought it for $2 at a yard sale. The nameplate from his last job in banking is attached to the chair: Mr. Flynn.
He knows Butch Clark as a steady customer. He remembers when Josh Thornhill was born. When Nathan Carter of the small town of Waldo came in to register his moose, Flynn double-checked the name and the birth date.
“I signed the financing for your grandfather’s skidder. That was before you were born.”
When Flynn checked Taylor’s buck, his eyebrows went up. Fifteen years of tagging deer gave him the perspective to say, with some authority, this was a big buck. Gutted, it weighed in at about 220 pounds. The 11-point rack of antlers had been well used.
Taylor listened to the comments and compliments quietly. He had taken his son out behind their camp in Montville. He sat Ryan in an old, metal chair, brushing the leaves away so Ryan could swing his legs. The buck came up behind them.
“His head was down,” said Taylor. “He looked up and it was like he was thinking, oh, no. I fired. He ran about 80 yards downhill before he fell.
“I think I saw him last year. Or his brother. I couldn’t get a shot off.”
Someone will have to explain to young Ryan that the first day of hunting season isn’t always so productive.
By 7 p.m., 14 deer and one moose were registered at the Freedom General Store. A good count for the first day. Hunting ceased before sundown. The day’s number was not expected to increase.
Only the retelling of stories.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: