State takes a step back for moose-permit drawing

Posted June 11, 2010, at 10:44 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:26 p.m.

    Maine’s moose-permit lottery began as a humble affair, with the names of the lucky winners drawn from a rotating bin, then announced to a crowd of curious on-lookers.

Since the modern Maine moose hunt began in 1980 on an experimental basis, then resumed as an annual event in 1982, the lottery has undergone massive changes.

Nowadays, there is no actual hopper that holds the lottery entry forms. Instead, a computer handles the sorting, drawing and printing of names that are read aloud.

In years past, if hunters couldn’t wait to find out if they were going moose hunting in the fall, they had a simple choice: They drove to the permit lottery, sat down and listened carefully.

Over the past few years, technological advancements have threatened the integrity of that process as the entire list of winners has been uploaded to the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife website within minutes of the first name being read aloud.

The result: Folks with hand-held communication devices or with friends sitting in front of a computer at home could immediately find out whether they’d been selected for a permit.

“I recall while in Fort Kent [for the 2009 lottery], people picking up their BlackBerrys and cell phones, and a lot of people were calling [attendees] to let them know they were lucky winners,” said DIF&W commissioner Roland “Dan” Martin.

In a nod to tradition and a refreshing break from popular trends, Martin has decided that for at least this year — likely his last in the commissioner’s chair with a gubernatorial election pending — people who take the time to head to the lottery will be rewarded for their loyalty.

“This year I made a conscious decision to embargo the list until 9 p.m., to protect the tradition of the drawing,” Martin said.

This year’s drawing will be held Thursday at L.L. Bean in Freeport and will begin at 6 p.m. According to Martin’s decision, results will not be uploaded to the department’s website for the first three hours of the drawing, which typically lasts between three and four hours.

The festivities at L.L. Bean will last all day, however, as a variety of seminars and events are scheduled to start at 11 a.m.

A reader from Caribou contacted the BDN in March to express her dismay at the way last year’s lottery was handled.

That reader, Patty Carson, said that she and her husband drove to Fort Kent last year expecting to have a fun time at the lottery, but found out that the intrusion of technology had made the actual drawing a moot point for many.

“There were a lot of people who were there from out of state, and people who were [sitting there] who had waited all that time. Being in person was exciting,” Carson said. “I think it was a little disappointing that people in the audience started hearing [the outcome from relatives or by looking on hand-held computer devices].”

As the excitement waned and many people started to leave, knowing they weren’t going to hear their names called, Carson and her husband also packed up and drove back to Caribou.

“If you know, when you walk in there, that your name would be called or it won’t be called, it changes the whole atmosphere of the event,” she said. “I hadn’t expected that at all.”

  Carson said she didn’t take her concerns to the DIF&W. Others did, Martin said.

“I’ve had several calls from folks indicating that releasing those names prematurely spoils the excitement of the drawing,” Martin said.

Martin is correct.

When attendees don’t know the outcome of the drawing, the background chatter is softer. Attendees pay closer attention. And the reaction of those who learn that their years of waiting for a moose permit are over is priceless.

Celebrations are common. So, believe it or not, are tears of joy.

Martin admits that with the available technology, it’s really no longer necessary to hold an actual drawing where names are read aloud.

Not necessary, perhaps.

But he recognizes the importance of the tradition that the drawing represents.

“Clearly we could dispense with the tradition of holding these drawings, but it’s something that its followers really appreciate,” Martin said. “It’s something that’s clearly not getting old.”

No, it’s not.

In fact, in many ways, the moose-permit lottery continues to improve every year, with each successive host community or business pulling out the stops in an effort to put on the best show yet.

For nearly 20 years, the lottery was held in Augusta. Then DIF&W staffers began holding the event at venues across the state.

After hopping from Kittery in the south to Fort Kent in the north, from Rumford to Scarborough to Bucksport, this year’s lottery lands in Freeport, home of one of the world’s most famous outdoor outfitters.

And there’s no shortage of other communities and businesses vying for future lotteries.

“As you might guess, I’ve already been contacted about next year’s lottery,” Martin said.

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