Human and canine moose hunting fans flocked to the Skowhegan Moose Festival on Saturday. Credit: John Holyoke

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — In a town that sits as the gateway to some of the state’s moose-iest spots, more than 1,600 people gathered at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds on Saturday for what has become one of Maine’s can’t-miss spring events.

Saturday was the day — finally — that entrants in the Maine moose permit lottery got to find out if they were heading on the hunt of a lifetime this fall. And the organizers of the Skowhegan Moose Festival rolled out the red carpet for the traveling road show that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife puts on each June.

And many in the audience left with the special treat they’d been hoping for.

[The 2018 Maine Moose Lottery Permit results]

Among them, Kurt Cressey of Orrington, who had never attended a moose permit lottery in the 38 unsuccessful years he’s been entering the drawing.

On Saturday, on a whim, Cressey headed to Skowhegan and settled into the bleachers. When his name was read aloud, he responded with a hoot of celebration.

“I can’t believe this,” Cressey said. “I was thinking of coming, but then I thought, ‘What if I go there and sit there for three hours and don’t get drawn?’ That will be even more of an embarrassment after 38 years. But I saw a boat for sale in Oakland, so I went to look at the boat — I bought it — and I thought, ‘I’m down here. I might as well ride up to Skowhegan, check it out.’”

The trip paid off: Cressey was drawn for a bull permit in Wildlife Management District 8 during the October hunting season. Not that he was getting greedy, but Cressey did say he was hoping for an October season if he was drawn, because he also hoped to bird hunt while he was looking for a moose.

“I might have to buy a lottery ticket tonight,” Cressey said.

Bob Morgan of Phillips was the first attendee to have his name drawn, and he received a gift box from Main Street Skowhegan as a result.

Morgan said he had been drawn before, and looked to hunt with a young grandson this time around. The last time he went on a moose hunt, that grandson’s brother was the shooter.

“I am excited. Excited for the kids more than anything. It’s all about making memories,” Morgan said. “That’s all you really have, isn’t it? Memories.”

Another happy hunter was Clifford Demerit of West Newfield, who won his permit early in the action.

Demerit said he had 50 “preference points” piled up after years of unsuccessfully participating in the lottery. Saturday was his lucky day.

“I just wanted to go real bad, so I kept putting in for it,” Demerit said. “I just want to go on an archery hunt for a moose, and if I don’t get one, it is what it is.”

Two hours before the drawing began, traffic was already heavy. The final mile to reach the fairgrounds took more than 20 minutes at noon, and a steady stream of cars headed both west and east on Route 201 to get to the site.

Several food trucks vied for customers behind the main grandstand, and many attendees took time to visit outdoor-related vendors at a nearby hall. The Moose Festival runs through Sunday, and after the drawing wrapped up, a concert by Phil Vassar and Bryan White was on tap.

Also on tap: An attempt at setting a world record for the most people simultaneously making a moose call. According to DIF&W graphics and media supervisor Emily MacCabe, there is no existing record in the category, but Guinness World Records sets a minimum number for record consideration. Organizers had 1,600 bracelets on hand to document the number of people who participated in the moose call, and all of the bracelets were handed out.

DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock announced that next year’s moose permit lottery will return to Scarborough, where it has been held twice previously. The 2019 event will be staged at Cabela’s.

And when Woodcock stepped up to read the first 100 names of the lottery — immediately after a thunderous group moose call by the spectators — he issued a warning.

“There is a glitch in every event, and I just wanted to tell you before I start,” Woodcock said. “I’ll be reading these names extremely quickly. We have reports, thanks to you and the Guinness Book of World Records moose-calling attempt, we have reports of 1,700 bull moose coming from Jackman and [Wildlife Management District] 7. We have to get the heck out of here in a hurry.”

This year’s season dates:

— Sept. 24-29, with 835 bull permits allotted in 11 of the state’s Wildlife Management Districts.

— Oct. 8-13, with 1,170 bull permits allotted in 18 WMDs.

— Oct. 22-27, with 450 cow permits allotted in six WMDs.

— Oct. 29-Nov. 24 (including Oct. 27 for Maine residents), with 45 permits allotted in two WMDs.

Maine’s modern moose hunt — the first since 1935 — began on an experimental basis back in 1980. That year, 39,269 Mainers applied for the drawing, seeking one of 700 available permits for a six-day September hunt.

After a one-year hiatus, the hunt returned in 1982 and has been held annually ever since. The first lottery was held at the Bangor Auditorium in July 1980. In subsequent years up until 1999, the permit lottery was held in Augusta. Beginning in 1999, state wildlife officials turned the lottery into a traveling event that has most recently visited Greenville, Presque Isle, Bethel, Kittery and Caribou.

By statute, the number of moose permits awarded to nonresidents is limited. This year, 2,259 residents and 241 nonresidents will receive permits.

The odds of winning varies because nonresidents are allowed to purchase unlimited chances in the lottery, while Mainers can buy only one chance at a permit. Prospective hunters also are rewarded for persistence, and receive at least one extra chance in the lottery for each year they have unsuccessfully entered the drawing.

This year 57,141 applicants applied for a Maine moose permit. The breakdown: 39,396 of the applicants were Maine residents, and 17,745 were nonresidents.

The overall odds of winning a permit was 1 in 20 this year. After those bonus “preference points” were added in, the odds of a single random number [chance] in the lottery being drawn was 1 in 81 for residents and 1 in 1,217 for nonresidents.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...