ASHLAND, Maine — Even before Roy Whalen III arrived at the moose-tagging station at Gateway Variety on Monday, the first day of the state’s split-session moose hunt, he had thoroughly enjoyed his trip and the resulting day off from school.
But when biology tech Heidi Johnston offered the talkative Sullivan 7-year-old a chance to take home a souvenir from his dad’s moose hunt, Whalen wasted no time putting his brand-new Swiss Army knife — a birthday present he received two days earlier — to work.
As part of her duties at the tagging station, Johnston collects a tooth from most moose so biologists can study them and determine each animal’s age. That data, combined with other statistics, such as body weight, helps the scientists assess the health of the herd.
Since the eager youth brought his own primitive dentistry equipment, Johnston figured it wouldn’t hurt to let him take a second tooth as a keepsake.
“Put it right between [the teeth] like you’re gonna floss him,” Johnston instructed.
“I think I’ve done that to my own teeth,” he replied in his distinctive Down East accent, as the assembled adults either laughed or cringed.
After the preliminary work was complete, Johnston handed Whalen a pair of pliers, and with a twist and a yank, the tooth was his.
“When you can get kids involved, that’s great,” Johnston said later.
Roy’s dad, also named Roy, said his son helped field-dress the 628-pound bull moose. And the boy’s eagerness to help his dad was no surprise.
“I’m a lobster fisherman, and he went with me all summer long,” the proud father said. “I think he missed three days.”
Roy Whalen was in town Monday to take part in the state’s annual moose hunt. Over three regular-season sessions, 3,015 lucky permit-holders will be allowed to hunt moose in Maine. The first six-day-session began Monday, with 1,139 permits in play. Another 1,741 permit-holders can hunt from Oct. 12-17, while 135 hunters will head afield from Nov. 2-28.
The modern Maine moose hunt began in 1980 on an experimental basis and, after a one-year hiatus, became an annual event in 1982.
The Whalen family has been luckier than most — husband and wife Roy and Angela have combined to win five permits in the lottery over the years.
This, however, was the first time they hunted together with their children, Roy III and 9-year-old Hannah. Grandmother Bonnie Whalen also tagged along.
Roy Whalen III, for one, was impressed with his dad’s moose.
“He’s a lot fatter than I thought he was,” the youngster said. “[I thought he weighed] about 520.”
As a light rain fell and temperatures hovered in the 60s on opening morning, Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife regional biologist Rich Hoppe said the conditions could favor hunters.
“If they did their homework and they went out and did a little scouting, I think they know the areas [the moose] are going to be, and I don’t find this weather to be a deterrent at all,” Hoppe said. “Moose, on a day like this, rather than sun, are going to be moving. They’re not going to be down in the dark growth.”
As the morning wore on and the weather changed, however, Hoppe’s prediction didn’t seem to be holding true.
The rain stopped and the sun began peeking through clouds, and the temperature quickly rose into the 70s. Not long after that, the flow of hunters arriving at the tagging station slowed.
By 11 a.m. just seven moose had been tagged and Johnston, who has worked at the station as a volunteer for five years, said traffic was much slower than in many past years. A year ago, she said, 56 moose were tagged on opening day in Ashland, the state’s busiest tagging station. The largest moose early on was the first of the day, an 875-pounder.
At M.A.C.S. Trading Post in Houlton, 12 moose had been tagged by 1 p.m. The largest weighed 989 pounds.
Back in Ashland, Chad Carlin of Mapleton enjoyed a hunt, and bagged his second moose of the year.
The first, unfortunately, ran into the side of his car while he was making a fishing trip in May.
Carlin bagged his 578-pound bull at 6:20 a.m., and admitted he was working on a fairly tight schedule.
“I’ve got to get back [to Orono] to school and take some classes,” the sophomore forestry major said with a chuckle.
The original plan (don’t tell his professors) was to hunt Monday and Tuesday, then return to Orono. If he hadn’t shot a moose, Carlin would have returned to Aroostook County for a hunt Saturday, the last day of his hunting season.
He didn’t need to bother. But that doesn’t mean he was heading directly back to school.
“I’m going to go back to camp and enjoy myself,” he said with a grin. “Fishing this afternoon.”
Roy Wallace of Topsham, who was hunting with his daughter, Rande Lavallee, as his subpermittee, was the first hunter to arrive at Gateway Variety in Ashland.
Their hunting party pulled into the lot at 9:07 a.m., and their successful hunt culminated years of waiting.
Wallace said he’d been putting his name into the state-run permit lottery since it began, and had never had his name drawn.
He had participated in the hunts of others, but bagged his own bull this year, a hefty 875-pounder with a 46-inch spread.
“I was going to begin to have my doubts if I was ever going to get drawn or not,” Wallace said. “This was the year.