OQUOSSOC, Maine — For the past 32 years, Wayne Jones of Jefferson has made his annual “donation” to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. That yearly fee allowed him to participate in the annual moose permit lottery. Unsuccessfully.
For 32 years, his name wasn’t drawn. Still, he filled out an entry form each year … even though he never figured he would win.
“I’m just not that lucky,” the 52-year-old Jones said Saturday night, as he accepted the well wishes from friends at yet another moose permit lottery, this one part of the Rangeley Lakes Region Moose Lottery Festival.
On Saturday, tucked into a corner of a steamy boat storage building among 800 or so spectators that spilled out into the parking lot, Jones was finally just that lucky.
His name was drawn. The permit was his. He’s going on a moose hunt of his own.
“I figured eventually, I’d have to get one,” Jones said. “But I didn’t think this year.”
Jones should have been more optimistic: This year, the state decided to ease the odds burden on longtime applicants who hadn’t been drawn by tinkering with its “preference points” system. People such as Jones, who had been in the lottery since at least 1998, had a 33.9 percent chance of winning this time around. Jones knew that, but was still skeptical.
Jones has had some moose hunting success over the years, but not on his own permit. Two sons were drawn three years ago, and Jones estimated that he had been on eight hunts with permit-winning pals over the years.
This year he will be heading to Wildlife Management District 1 in extreme northwestern Maine, and expects those pals to tag along with him.
“There’ll be a whole caravan. There will be about 10 of us, I bet,” Jones said.
When his sons were selected in the lottery, Jones said he had as much fun helping them as he would have on his own permit. And this time around, he suspects the things that happen in camp will be as memorable as the actual moose-shooting part of the hunt.
“That’s what it’s all about: It’s about camaraderie,” he said. “Shooting the moose is just a part of it. All the good stories are what you make of it.”
The first name drawn for the 2012 moose season: Todd Mrowca of Howell, Mich.
Also announced on Saturday: The 2013 moose lottery will take place on the shores of Moosehead Lake in Greenville.
In all, 3,725 lucky winners were selected Saturday. Those winners were picked from a pool of 54,338 applicants. A further breakdown: 3,362 Maine residents (out of 39,81 applicants) were drawn. Another 363 nonresidents (out of a pool of 14,467) were selected. The 54,338 applicants was higher than the 49,887 who participated in the lottery a year ago, and the 49,729 from 2010.
Many attendees were western Maine residents who made the short trip to the scenic Rangeley area; other vacationers from as far away as California stopped by to take part in a Maine tradition. And at least one politician — U.S. Senate candidate Angus King — recognized the moose permit lottery as a great opportunity to press the flesh in rural Maine.
Maine’s modern moose hunt dates back to 1980, when it was staged on a one-year experimental basis. After a year to study the data, the moose hunt returned as an annual event in 1982.
Hunters were drawn to participate during one of four sessions in 2012: Sept. 24-29 in eight of the state’s Wildlife Management Districts; Oct. 8-13 in 19 WMDs; Nov. 5-10 in 10 WMDs; or Oct. 29-Nov. 24 in six WMDs.
This year marked the first of a system that was designed to increase the number of successful applicants among those who have been participating in the lottery for years, but have not had their names drawn.
Maine residents were only allowed to purchase one chance in the lottery this year, but were credited for each consecutive unsuccessful year of participation back to 1998 with bonus chances. Applicants received one bonus chance for each year of participation dating back five years, two points per year for years 6-10, three points per year for years 11-15 and 10 points per year for the 16th year and after. The most points, or chances, that a Maine resident could have in this year’s draw was 27.
Those participants with 27 chances in the drawing had a 33.9 percent chance of having their names drawn.
Another change for this year: Moose hunters whose names are drawn will have to sit out the next three hunts, though they will be allowed to register for the drawing in order to accrue their “preference points,” or extra chances. Previously, successful hunters were ineligible for the next two hunts, but could not accrue points during that period.
By 2 p.m. — two hours before the lottery began — more than 600 people had already crowded into the large boat storage building where the drawing was to be held. The reason: The finals of the World Invitational Moose Calling Contest.
The finals had to be moved from the smaller adjacent Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum because of the overflow crowd.
A steady stream of festival attendees were on hand beginning at about 10 a.m., and the crowd thickened throughout the day. Many family activities, including a trampoline bungee and climbing wall, were held in Oquossoc, and other events were held in Rangeley itself.
In addition, a fishing derby and fly-casting competition were held, as were several other outdoor events.
Hunters who had their names drawn but who may want to see if another season session or opportunity was available are able to do that by checking out mooseswap.com.
The website run by the Maine Professional Guides Association is designed to pair permit-carrying hunters with another permit-winner who is looking for a match. The swapping process is sanctioned by the state and has become increasingly popular over the past several years.