WINTHROP — Mike Bennett almost didn’t make it to the woods for Saturday’s opening day of deer season.

Driving from his Augusta home to his hunting spot in Monmouth, Bennett went through a rainstorm that had him dreaming of his warm house rather than a cold tree stump.

“It started raining and pouring, and it was like, ‘Do I even want to go up?'” Bennett recalled. “Then it kind of let up.”

Unlike thousands of other hunters who endured the cold rain and wind that marked the first day of the regular firearms season only to return home empty-handed, Bennett was rewarded quickly for his persistence – in a big way.

“I had walked in just as daylight broke,” he recalled. “I was there maybe 15 minutes, just standing where I had seen one before, in previous years. The thing came walking right up to me. He came within 30 yards. He didn’t even know I was there. He turned and I had the scope on him already. Bang! That simple.”

That “bang” from Bennett’s rifle brought down a nine-point buck that weighed in at Audette’s Hardware store at 230 pounds, much to the chagrin of one of the handful of men who stopped to admire the deer. The gathering prompted a quick wager about whether the big buck would crack the 200-pound threshold. The weight is unofficial, however, because it included the buck’s heart and liver, which Bennett had not removed during the field dress.

“My mother likes the heart and liver and stuff, so I just left it right there,” Bennett said.

Maine’s youth deer hunting day was held Oct. 25, but Saturday marked the beginning of the regular season for the vast majority of Maine hunters. The day, like all opening days, was set aside for Maine residents only. Nonresidents can begin hunting on Monday. Deer hunting with regular firearms is allowed every day except Sunday through Nov. 29. State biologists estimate about 20,000 deer will be harvested between now and then.

A total of 20,810 deer were harvested during last year’s regular firearms season. Another 4,000 were killed during the Youth Day, archery and muzzle loader seasons.

Last year’s opening day was marked by sunny skies and temperatures that soared to near 70 degrees. Hunters enjoyed no such luck Saturday. Temperatures hovered in the upper 30s, but a wind-driven drizzle made it feel even colder.

“It’s cold, wet and windy,” said Edward Ayotte, of Mount Vernon, one of about eight hunters who rolled in Saturday morning at Audette’s to tag and weigh their deer. “It didn’t take very long to cool off this morning.”

The hunters who gathered to tag their deer at Audette’s agreed the conditions made it more uncomfortable for people, but they were ambivalent about how it affected the deer or the hunt for them. More than 80 deer were tagged in Kennebec County by 2 p.m. Saturday, according to a Kennebec Journal survey. While employees at a couple of those stations claimed numbers were down from previous years, most said they were about average. Tobey’s General Store in China, which had tagged 15, had seen the most deer.

“They don’t like traveling when it’s real windy, because everything is so noisy for them,” Ayotte said. “I’ve seldom shot a deer when the sun was out. It’s usually days like this when it’s overcast.”

Ayotte bagged his deer, a five-point buck that tipped the scales at nearly 125 pounds, shortly after 8 a.m., in the woods of his hometown.

“He screwed up. He showed up,” Ayotte said of the deer

The bullet ripped through the buck’s lungs, but the animal ran about 150 yards before finally falling down.

“It’s a lot further than they usually go when you hit them in the lungs like that,” Ayotte said. “He was just running on adrenaline.”

Ayotte, who said he struggles with “bad legs,” called a friend in a nearby tree stand to help him drag the deer out of the woods.

“It’s a lot easier with two people than it is with just one,” Ayotte said.

Bennett, too, called a friend to help him drag his 200-pound-plus monster.

“I’m still breathing hard, and that was a couple of hours ago,” Bennett said. “It was up and down, across the stream. I had all I could do. I’d drag a few, stop, move my gun, drag some more.”

Rusty Gaghan, of Winthrop, had his teenage son to help drag out of the woods the eight-point buck he shot in Wayne. He tagged the deer at Audette’s but did not get an official weight.

Gaghan was in the woods at sunrise and waited a couple of hours before getting his shot around 8:15 a.m.

“I heard him snort a few times, and then he came out and was facing right at me,” Gaghan said. “I didn’t waste any time and I shot.”

This is the first time Gaghan, who started hunting only three years ago, has ever shot a deer. Ayotte, on the other hand, has about 50 seasons under his belt. He is accustomed to getting a deer every year, though the buck he shot Saturday was the first in three seasons.

“Without bragging, I can almost tell you what tree the deer are going to be under,” he said. “It’s times spent you never forget. Every year you learn something else and you put it together. It just pays off.”

It paid off quickly this year for Ayotte, who said he will spend the rest of the hunting season helping his wife. And there will be satisfying reminders of his own hunt.

“I’ll look at his horns and have deer meat,” Ayotte joked. “It ain’t no trophy, but it ought to be good eatin’.”