Cameron Couture’s first successful hunt was textbook. In fact, his mother, Jenny MacIsaac, says if her son studied spelling as hard as he studied hunting videos before Youth Deer Day, the 11-year-old from Wilton would be an A student.

“He had been studying hunting videos. Googling them for a week, slowing them down, to see where to kill the deer. He felt confident that he could do that,” MacIsaac said.

Couture’s first deer – a 138-pound doe that he shot last Saturday in Leeds – was bagged just as he planned. However, it helped that the young sportsman hunted with his grandfather in a section of central Maine teeming with whitetails, and in a year that Maine biologists say the statewide herd is doing better than anticipated.

That’s good news for all hunters when deer season opens for Maine residents Saturday, and for non-residents Monday.

The fall firearm season extends to Nov. 29.

Last fall hunters killed 24,795 deer, an increase of 15 percent over the 2012 harvest of 21,552 – making it the third consecutive year the deer harvest increased. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has not given a year-to-year statewide deer population estimate since 2003, although from 1955 until 2003 the department estimated the population around 200,000 most years.

State biologists have been carefully managing the deer herd since severe winters 2008 and 2009 resulted in excessive winter mortality among whitetails statewide. Even in southern and central Maine, where the winters are milder, the deer herd was hurt during those hard back-to-back winters, said Kyle Ravana, a deer biologist for the department.

This spring, biologists decreased deer-hunting permits by about 20 percent after one of the coldest winters on record. The state has allocated slightly more than 37,000 permits in 2014 – down from more than 46,000 last year – to help maintain the deer herd. The 2014 permits are allocated in only 12 of the state’s 29 hunting districts, mostly in southern and central Maine.

Now Ravana believes the herd may be in better shape than the winter-severity index, used to estimate winter mortality among deer, suggested earlier this year. Reports from biologists, hunters and game wardens this summer have painted a picture of a healthy herd.

“We’re running on a lot of anecdotal information but basically what most people are seeing is a lot of deer, and that is across the state, even up in northern Maine. And that’s an indication the statewide population is doing well,” said Ravana.

“People are seeing a lot of does with twins and even triplets. It’s a good indication winter mortality may have been lower than what we were projecting. People are seeing a lot of deer in all parts.”

That’s what Cameron Couture and his grandfather, Bill Baxter, experienced on their hunt.

When Couture and Baxter went out to hunt just west of Augusta early last Saturday, they waited in a blind in the woods for five hours. It was long enough to see plenty of signs of deer, the young hunter said.

Does seemed to be everywhere, and they were big, Couture said.

“There were tons of them. We saw maybe 10 deer that day, and a big buck. I couldn’t shoot it because it was too far away, maybe 100 yards,” Couture said. “When those three does stepped out, I was really excited. I said to my papa, ‘I’m pretty sure there is a deer coming in behind us.'”

The boy turned before his grandfather and saw what he had seen in the hunting videos he had studied for a week: a doe 10 yards away, standing broad-side to him.

Couture also had prepared for that moment at the shooting range with his stepfather, Jeff MacIsaac, working on his aim and marksmanship to assure a clean kill. He felt confident he could kill his first deer the way he wanted, with one shot. He whispered to his grandfather, and Baxter told him if felt certain, to shoot.

So the boy did. And with one shot he hit the hefty doe in the chest, then watched it falter, move into the woods and fall. Couture dropped it just as he planned.

“I actually had to turn around to shoot. But it stepped right into a clearing and I got a shot at 20 yards,” Couture said. “I learned how to gut it and all that. All I could say was, ‘My first deer.’ “

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