SCARBOROUGH, Maine — When Chandler Woodcock stepped to the lectern outside the massive Cabela’s store shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday, he asked the crowd of several hundred prospective moose hunters a simple question.
“How many of you think your name is on this list?” he asked as the state’s annual moose permit lottery kicked off. Many in the audience enthusiastically told the Maine commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife how sure they were that this — finally — was their year.
It didn’t take long for that to change. Barely 30 names into the official Maine moose lottery permit drawing, Woodcock looked up from his list, smiled, and asked another simple question.
“How many people are getting nervous already?” he asked.
Judging by the awkward chuckles that emanated from the audience, the answer was “most of us.”
That’s the way the annual permit drawing works, you see. Prospective moose hunters are a lot like Red Sox fans (before, that is, the Sox won a couple of World Series titles). They hope for the best. Then, eventually, they settle for the worst.
Many in the crowd have been applying for moose permits since 1980, the first year of the state’s modern moose hunt. In all, a record-high 3,862 permits were allotted during this year’s drawing, which was expected to last for four hours.
It took nearly 10 minutes (and more than 100 names) before one of the lottery attendees finally heard her name read aloud. The lucky permit recipient: State representative Anne Haskell of Portland.
Haskell said she has been applying for a moose permit for about 15 years. Moose hunting — or even the chance to go on a moose hunt — is serious business to Haskell and her husband, Lou.
“When my husband proposed to me [seven years ago] we were talking about maybe getting married in September or October,” Haskell said. “He said, ‘Well, I have to tell you something. I put in for the moose lottery [which could have created a timing conflict].’ I said, ‘That’s all right. I did, too.’”
Want more proof that the Haskells are serious hunters?
“My wedding gift from my husband was a deer rifle,” Anne Haskell said.
Alas, neither got a permit seven years ago. They married each other without having to schedule around a moose hunt. And they’ve kept applying (and hoping) every year since.
“I have been mooseless. I have eaten a lot of moose and have cooked a lot of moose,” Haskell said.
This year, that will change.
About 400 people packed into chairs in a large tent outside Cabela’s while several hundred others milled around outside the tent.
(For a complete listing of permit winners see: http://bangordailynews.com/outdoors/moose-lottery/)
The lottery was the purpose for the event, but Cabela’s pulled out the stops, offering several childen’s activities and a barbecue cook-off in the hours before the names began being read aloud at 4 p.m.
In all, 49,887 people – 36,527 Maine residents and 13,360 nonresidents – entered this year’s lottery. The overall total was slightly higher than last year, when 49,729 applicants vied for 3,140 permits.
The 2010 drawing drew the second-lowest number of applicants in modern moose hunt history, however, trailing just the inaugural 1980 season. At its peak of popularity, 94,532 applicants sought one of just 1,200 permits during the 1994 lottery.
Maine’s modern moose hunt was first held on an experimental basis in 1980, when 700 permits were allotted after being hand-drawn from a drum. That year’s lottery was held in Bangor, and according to news reports at the time, about 60 people attended in person.
After a one-year hiatus the lottery became an annual event in 1982. For the past several years the event has been staged around the state as municipalities and businesses vie for the right to serve as hosts. Saturday’s drawing was the third to be held in Scarborough, but the first at the Cabela’s store.
Other recent drawings have been held at L.L. Bean in Freeport, Kittery Trading Post, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Phippsburg, Rumford, Presque Isle, Old Town, Bucksport, Boothbay Harbor and Millinocket.
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, this year’s resident applicants had a 1-in-76 chance at having their names drawn if they bought just one chance in the lottery. Overall, however, applicants had a 1-in-12 chance of being drawn because of a couple of traditional wrinkles in the lottery process.
Among the ways for entrants to increase their odds: For each consecutive year that an entrant has applied unsuccessfully, they receive an extra chance, or “preference point,” in the next year’s drawing. Those who win a permit or fail to apply in a given year lose all their preference points.
And most applicants take advantage of those opportunities. According to statistics provided by the DIF&W, Maine resident applicants had bought or earned an average of 7.24 chances per person in this year’s lottery, and are limited by the fact that residents are only allowed to purchase as many as six chances per year.
And nonresidents, who can buy as many lottery chances as they choose, had purchased or earned an average of 11.7 chances per person. While some Mainers complain that nonresidents have an unfair advantage because they can buy unlimited chances, that isn’t so: Nonresidents compete against each other for a finite pool of permits. By law, that number of permits cannot exceed 10 percent of the overall total.
The number of lottery chances per person has increased from 6.58 per Maine resident (and 9.98 per nonresident) in 2005 to the current levels.