WINTHROP — Aline Elie was thinking about buying a lottery ticket Saturday, because her luck was in.

“I’ll go on record to say I have never tagged out on the first day, never mind in the first hour,” Elie said Saturday morning.

Standing by her white sport utility vehicle at the tagging station at Audette’s Ace Hardware and scrubbing her hands with disposable wipes on the first day of the general firearms deer season in Maine, Elie and her husband, Gary Elie, were among the hunters who were lining up to have their deer tagged and weighed.

This year is anticipated to be good for hunters. Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said last week that three consecutive mild winters have resulted in an increasing deer population across the state.

Elie returned to the spot where she hunts every year in Winthrop, and the signs were promising.

“It was cold this morning. There was ice on the windshields, so I knew the deer would be up and running,” she said.

When Elie settled in her spot, she said, she heard a ruckus behind her, and it was the buck that she eventually took.

“I spend probably from September to the second weekend in December somewhere in the woods,” she said. “Now that I got one, I can concentrate on turkey, and my husband can concentrate on the deer.”

OFF TO GOOD START

For many, the day’s hunting gets its start long before the sun comes up at one of the dozens of hunter’s breakfasts put on as fundraisers across Maine by fire departments, fish and game clubs, recreation clubs, schools and service clubs.

They draw hunters such as Rose and Stanley Hinkley of Stetson, who arrived early Saturday at the annual Chatterbox Club in St. Albans, as they do every year.

Hunting is a privilege to Rose Hinkley, 68, who has been enjoying the sport for at least 50 years.

“We live in the land of the free,” she said, adding that they have the right to bear arms. “We’re proud Americans.”

The breakfast, hosted by the Hartland-St. Albans Lions Club, is a nearly three-decade-old tradition to raise money for the club. It began at 5 a.m. when fog still hung thick in the air on Mason Corner Road.

The Hinkleys have made their own tradition out of hunting, purchasing lifetime licenses and shooting a number of moose and large bucks over the years.

“It’s a family tradition,” Rose said. “It’s family-oriented.”

Other families stopped at the club to make their own traditions. Eric Simonds, 39, of Newport brought his 10-year-old son, Caleb, to breakfast before heading out for Caleb’s first day of hunting.

“I’m excited to go in the woods,” Caleb said.

Simonds first started hunting when he was 10, he said, and he is happy to continue the tradition with his son.

However, this year he’s a little nervous about what the warmer weather will bring.

“It won’t be as active,” he said.

Steve Shaw, 63, of Hartland remembered hunting with his grandfather when he was 8 while eating his pancakes at the club.

“I would just watch him and see how he used to hunt,” he said.

While the places he hunts haven’t changed, the weather has, he said. It’s much warmer now than when Shaw was young, making it more difficult to spot the deer, which tend to stop moving in warmer weather. Shaw planned to come back from the woods around noon.

Some people don’t care if they come out of the woods empty-handed, though.

“I just enjoy it, even if I don’t shoot anything,” said Galen Butler, 68, of St. Albans. Butler said he once got a deer on a 70-degree day in November, so he wasn’t too worried.

The morning was cold enough for Brian Bubier, 55, of Monmouth, who got a spike-horn buck that weighed about 130 pounds at his son’s property in Cornville.

“It’s as cold as this morning as it’s been in a long time,” Bubier said. “It said it was 38 degrees when I stepped out of my truck.”

A total of three people had stopped at Jim’s Variety in Athens by midmorning Saturday to get their deer tagged.

One man from nearby Cornville said he was still wearing his slippers when he shot a 2-point buck about 7 a.m.

“I was sleeping,” Philip Beatty, 64, said while giving his information at the counter for a tag. “I woke up and he was in the field.”

Beatty said he sees deer on his property in Cornville all the time. A hunter since age 14, he was happy with his smaller catch, which he called “an eatin’ deer.”

Kyle Burgess, 26, came down from Bangor on Saturday to hunt with his stepfather in the Winthrop area, and he got his deer after only an hour.

“Usually, I don’t even shoot one until Thanksgiving or later,” he said.

He’d been looking forward to hunting season, and now that it’s done for him, Burgess said he’ll probably pick up extra work shifts at the mall in Bangor. He’s a student at the University of Maine studying pre-medical and exercise science.

DATA ADD UP

Not everyone who was out Saturday was hunting deer.

Dick Dilley, 81, of Mount Vernon is a volunteer with DIF&W who collects biological data on the deer that are brought in for tagging and weighing.

He, like volunteers across the state, notes the animal’s sex and the municipality it was shot in. If it’s a buck and a yearling, he measures the diameter of the antlers at a specific place. If it’s an adult, he pulls a tooth to send for analysis.

“All this information goes into a big database that takes almost a year to get it together for the whole state and crunch it down,” he said.

The result of that work paints a picture of the size and health of the herd and drives herd management decisions.

That also will affect the state’s economy.

In 2013, the Maine Office of Tourism and DIF&W commissioned an analysis of the state’s sporting population to examine the economic contributions of hunting.

In that year, deer hunting alone supported 1,010 jobs and nearly $35 million in labor income. Direct spending by hunters of all species and the indirect spending that results contributed $191 million to Maine’s gross state product in that year, and generated a total economic output of more than $338 million.

Like many hunters, Elie, who turned 57 on Saturday, learned to hunt from her father, and she still carries one of his hunting knives.

For Aline and Gary Elie, who live in Lewiston and celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary Thursday, hunting is a tradition, something they enjoy together and something they have taught their sons.

“I was with my son when he shot his first deer, and there was nothing better than that – his face, his expression, his triumph,” she said. “It’s a special thing. Not everyone understands it.”

She took a few minutes to show her deer to Isaiah Miller, 8, who stopped at the tagging station with his grandfather to see the hunters and the hunted.

Elie said she was planning to use the antlers to hang her bow.

“Can I take one home and gross out my mom?” Isaiah said.

“As much as I love hunting and being successful,” Elie said, “it’s not always about being successful. It’s the camaraderie, the friendships and the stories.”