When Maine’s modern moose hunt began three decades ago, those fortunate enough to earn a coveted permit enjoyed success rates near 90 percent.
Over the years, as more permits have been allotted and massive clear cuts grew back making it tougher to spot the state’s iconic critter, that hunter success rate slowly has dropped closer to 80 percent.
On Friday, the state’s head deer and moose biologist shared some preliminary numbers that showed the 2009 season followed the recent trend.
Biologist Lee Kantar hasn’t finished compiling and analyzing the data — he’s busy preparing for a March meeting that will help determine the number of any-deer permits to be allotted in the fall — but did have some raw numbers to pass along.
The state awarded 3,015 permits in 2009, and 2,348 of those hunters — 77.8 percent — were successful.
Two six-day sessions were held in traditional fashion, and for the second straight year a monthlong November hunt was staged for 145 permit-holders in four more southern Wildlife Management Districts.
“It’s partially anecdotal, but one thing we can attest to is that we had extremely good weather,” Kantar said. “We had cold weather and lots of moose movement.”
The 2009 success rate is the second-highest during the past five years. In 2006, 82 percent of hunters filled their tags (and freezers). Other recent success rates: 2008: 76 percent; 2007: 71.3 percent; 2005: 76 percent.
Kantar said the addition in 2008 of some less productive southern hunting zones makes comparison with past years more difficult.
“People say a lot about the overall success rate, but people have to be cautioned,” Kantar said. “Now, the better way to look at this is to differentiate between the traditional seasons we’ve had up north and the southern Maine moose hunt.”
Kantar pointed out that in two of the four so-called “southern” districts where moose hunting is now allowed, the hunting can prove challenging.
In WMD 23, which stretches from Augusta to Newburgh, the success rate was just 13 percent. And in WMD 26, which includes Bucksport and large parts of Bangor, Old Town and Ellsworth, just three of the 45 permit-holders — 7 percent — filled tags.
When you look at the “southern” hunt as a separate entity, the distinction is clear. In those four districts, just 32 of 135 tags (23.7 percent) were filled. In the more traditional moose-hunting zones in northern Maine, 2,316 of 2,880 hunters (80.4 percent) were successful.
Kantar said the hunting in zones 23 and 26 are a particular test for hunters.
“I think it’s tough because it depends on who the hunter is and how well they know the area,” Kantar said. “You’ve seen our district, 26, and people are looking for a place where not only is it accessible, but it’s also a place where there’s going to be moose in November. Moose behavior starts to change quite a bit when you get into November.”
And although biologists have come to expect a high success rate in most of the state’s moose-hunting zones, Kantar said there are still variables hunters can control.
“The change [over the years] that’s hard to quantify is hunter behavior,” said Kantar, who pointed out that the tried-and-true road-hunting of the 1980s isn’t nearly as productive as it once was.
“There’s certainly a change over the last several decades in visibility in the north Maine woods, and hunters have to be able to take new tactics as to how they’re going to hunt up there,” Kantar said. “[A good success rate in 2009] may be part of that as well. Hunters [are] keying into those changes.”
And this year, hunters will have another opportunity to learn some new hunting skills.
Kantar said a six-day early November season will be added in four northern hunting districts , in WMDs 2, 3, 6, and 11.
According to the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Web site, 310 permits will be allotted for that week.
Traditionally the northern Maine moose hunt has been held either in late September or early October.
Weather better for deer
The past two winters have been particularly harsh on the state’s northern deer herd, but Kantar said he’s fairly encouraged by what he’s seeing this winter.
That’s the way it goes with weather-watching in Maine, after all. Today may be great. Tomorrow it may snow four feet.
Kantar knows that, and is cautiously optimistic.
“I think it’s mostly good news for this winter, there’s no question,” Kantar said, pausing briefly before delivering the big if.
“It’s going to depend on what happens the next few weeks with snowstorms,” Kantar said. “Are we going to get more and more, or are our temperatures going to be moderate?”
The herd certainly could use a break.
A couple of weeks ago, the DIF&W released its deer-kill total for 2009, and few likely were shocked to learn that just 18,045 deer were taken by hunters last fall.
In many parts of the state, this winter hasn’t been tough enough to create conditions that make deer foraging and travel difficult. Up north, as usual, it’s been more challenging.
“It’s been a better winter everywhere, but there’s still restrictive conditions in the far north country,” Kantar said. “In those forest interior districts, they just got hammered with a bunch of snow. The problem with severe winters is there’s a lasting effect on the different age groups.”
More female deer die before they give birth in the spring during extreme winters, and the age class that is born after a bad winter is subsequently less populated. In addition, the deer that are born may be smaller and less apt to survive.
Kantar said the DIF&W has actively encouraged coyote hunters to help the herd in specific areas this winter in order to give the deer an additional advantage.
Now he’s hoping for no further snow.
“A late winter storm is very problematic for deer. By the time March comes around, and April, before things green up, they’re at their worst for body condition,” Kantar said. “So in March and April when we get a snowstorm that comes in, the question is, ‘How long will that snow remain, and what will that mean to deer consid-ering the condition that they’re in right now in some of these areas?’”