Craig Watt’s store, Indian Hill Trading Post, sits perched over Moosehead Lake, ready to serve the thousands of visitors who head to the Greenville region each year.
And as he meets and greets all those vacationers, he hears the same two questions over and over again.
“Where to see a moose is the second-most frequently asked question here,” Watt said in an email.
The most frequent question: “Where is the bathroom?”
We’ll skip the most popular query for now and go right to No. 2: So … how do you go about finding a real, live Maine moose?
We posed that question to Watt and two registered Maine guides, asking for their guidance for those DIY moose-watchers who are eager to shoot some photos of Maine’s biggest land mammal.
Before we begin, there’s this important fact: If you really have to find a moose in order to make Aunt Nettie from New York (or your new boss) happy, don’t mess around. Hire a Maine guide.
Many outfitters specialize in moose safaris, and many other registered Maine guides would be happy to take you afield to find you a moose.
But if you insist on doing it yourself, there are some essential things to know.
First, many Maine towns have “chamber of commerce moose,” moose that congregate in the same spot so often, you’d swear they were on the town payroll.
Greenville is just such a place.
“We send [people] either toward the [Department of Transportation] garage in Shirley, on Route 15 toward Rockwood, or Lily Bay Road to Kokadjo,” Watt said. “For the more adventurous, we direct them to Lazy Tom Bog above Kokadjo or the KI Road east of Greenville.
Tenley Bennett, a guide who runs Fish River Lodge in Eagle Lake, says Aroostook County travelers often happen upon moose along Route 11 between Portage and Eagle Lake.
“There are many wallows where moose are spotted along the road,” she said.
And guide Jay Robinson of Woodville said he’s got a few sure-fire spots to try when he wants to find moose.
“There’s a backwater pond on the left driving into my camp on Hurd Pond Road [just past Abol Bridge on the Golden Road] that I’ve been seeing a nice bull in,” Robinson said. “Also some at River Pond that may require a good set of binoculars.”
In general, Bennett and Robinson said, timing can be the key. Early is good. Late is good. The middle of the day is not.
“Best time — the first couple hours after the sun rises and the last couple hours in the evening before the sun is setting,” Bennett said. “Moose are most active in ‘cool’ weather. In summer, this translates to hours without overhead sun and cool, dark places where there is thick cover.”
Robinson said that moose-watchers may have to work harder during different times of the year.
“August isn’t a particularly good time to spot them out in the open,” Robinson said. “Too many deer flies and moose flies. Early evening’s best to catch one somewhere out in a bog or along the path.”
Bennett and Robinson each said prospective moose watchers should get off the beaten path if they want to increase their chances of success.
“Moose don’t linger long on high-traffic roads,” Bennett said. “I watched a young bull at a North Maine Woods check station wandering in the woods as vehicles approached, and then [moving] back out of the woods after they passed, thus remaining undetected. You’ll find more moose on branch roads.”
Find water, and you’re likely to find moose.
“Moose eat a lot and one of their favorite foods is water plants,” Bennett said. “Find moose in low-flow rivers and edges of ponds. They also like to strip leaves from saplings, especially maple saplings, so you’ll find them in tree-harvest areas. Look for moose in selective cuts, at the edges of large cuts, and in the open swaths of strip cuts.”
Robinson likes slightly breezy days better than humid, still days.
And he said another key is to be as stealthy as possible.
“It’s a good idea to approach quietly and make very little noise and movement,” Robinson said. “[Treat it] much the same as hunting, but with a camera.”
And if all else fails, consider hiring a guide.
Bennett said that even guides who don’t specifically market themselves as offering moose safaris would likely take visitors into the woods.
“There are so many opportunities for the public to hire guides in northern Maine — for hiking, moose safaris, paddling — for even just an hour,” she said.