Since its inception in 1980, on an experimental basis, and its establishment as an annual event in 1982, Maine’s modern moose hunt has provided a special opportunity for thousands of resident and nonresident hunters.
On Monday morning, the state’s regular late-September session will begin, continuing a tradition that many consider the hunt of a lifetime.
“I’ve said all along that really when people think of moose and moose-hunting in the lower 48 [states], Maine should be number one on the map,” said wildlife biologist Lee Kantar, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s lead moose researcher.
Kantar said Maine’s large moose herd and the state’s landscape, fall weather and scenery make for a spectacular hunt.
“I really think that our September moose hunt, especially for bulls that are in the midst of a rut, has got to be a world-class opportunity in the north country,” Kantar said.
Moose hunters will be afield for most of the next two months, taking part in four different seasons on a permit-only basis. Monday marks the beginning of a regular six-day session, with 1,085 permit-holders spreading out over eight of the state’s 29 Wildlife Management Districts. In play during the first session are WMDs in extreme northern and northeast Maine.
After relinquishing the woods to bird hunters for their opening week of hunting, another crop of moose hunters will try to fill one of 1,557 permits during a season that stretches from Oct. 10-15. During that session 19 WMDs are open to hunting.
Another 1,000 permit-holders have earned the right to hunt in nine WMDs from Nov. 7-12, and 200 permits have been allotted in six more southerly zones for a month-long session that coincides with the state’s firearms deer season, from Oct. 31-Nov. 26. Maine permit-holders for that November season can also hunt moose on the state’s residents-only day, Oct. 29.
In all, a record 3,862 moose permits have been issued for this year’s hunts.
Action promises to be fast and furious at checking stations in the open zones, and opening-day crowds gather at the busier stations — among them, Ashland during the September season and Greenville in October — to gawk at moose and hear moose stories told by proud hunters.
“I’ve worked up in Kokadjo where we’ve had nonresidents, out-of-staters, come in and they just want to see the moose come in [to be tagged],” Kantar said. “You can’t help but be awed by the size of some of these bulls that come in [and] the impressive antlers that some of them are wearing.”
Kantar said opening WMDs 22 and 25 to limited moose hunting during the month-long November season is a big change, and said hunters in those southern zones shouldn’t expect the same kind of hunt that exists in the big woods in northern Maine.
“Guys who have [permits] in southern Maine experience a very different hunt than [those] in the north country,” he said. “There’s different expectations and people have to be ready for those expectations of moose hunting if it’s their first time.”
Moose will not be in the rut during that period, and will likely be harder to find.
Kantar said that aerial surveys conducted during the winter helped give biologists a better moose population estimate in targeted zones, and said he hopes flights will again be scheduled for the coming winter. And he said November 7-12 hunters targeting cow moose are being asked to help biologists by taking the reproductive organs of their moose to the tagging station for further study.
“We’ll have folks stationed out at 13 different locales during that November week to help with receiving all the ovaries that come in,” Kantar said, explaining that females will have been bred by then, and collecting the ovaries will help biologists determine more precise information on a region’s potential calf production.
“If your reproduction rate is looking really good, you’re saying, ‘We’ve got plenty of habitat out there and we’re doing fine,’” Kantar said. “It’s a very good measure to have and one that’s used by moose biologists across moose range.”