We Mainers love our moose, and a sizeable subsection of us loves our annual moose hunt. But we’re certainly not the only place on the planet that has these gangly critters, and other states, Canadian provinces and countries have different approaches to moose hunting and moose management as a whole.
That was a takeaway message from Wednesday evening’s public forum at the North American Moose Conference, a gathering of moose specialists that returned to Maine for the first time in 18 years. The question-and-answer session was held at Sugarloaf, and a number of topics were covered.
Among the most illuminating — hunting and the way various states and provinces approach it.
First, for context, consider this: In Maine, we’ve had a modern moose hunt since 1980, with as few as 700 permits (and as many as 4,110) being allotted by lottery to hunters.
Here are a few different approaches, according to the assembled biologists at the conference:
Next door to us, Kristine Rines, moose project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said one of the first actions of her department after it was formed in the late 1800s was to stop moose hunting, which had decimated the herd. That hunt returned in 1988, as the moose population increased.
“It took three years of intensive educational effort before we even put that to a vote,” said Rines, who wraps up her 30-year career at the department in two weeks. “We made sure that, as far as possible, the public understood the ramifications of a science-based hunt.”
New Hampshire’s permits are allotted by lottery, and the record-high for permits was 675. After a steady decline in the population in recent years, the state will only issue 49 permits this year.
“Today, as the moose population has declined, we have reduced permit issuance, even though we recognize that hunting is not the driving force here,” Rines said. “In fact, at this point, we kill three times more moose with motor vehicle accidents than we’re killing with the permit system.”
The situation is vastly different in Quebec. How different? You may not believe it.
“There is no restriction in the number of permits allowed each year,” Quebec moose biologist Maxime Lavoie said. “If they want to go hunting, they can go hunting.”
During the most recent hunting season, 170,000 people bought moose-hunting permits, and 20,000 moose were tagged. There’s a requirement that two hunters have to attach their tags to each moose, and last year, hunters were allowed to take either bulls or calves. Every other year, hunting for cow moose is also allowed, which boosts the harvest to about 28,000.
“In Quebec, the moose hunt is the most important hunt of all game animals,” Lavoie said.
It certainly sounds like it. But before you start comparing those numbers to those in Maine, consider this: Quebec, at 644,000 square miles, dwarfs the state of Maine (roughly 33,000 square miles).
Tim Thomas, a district wildlife biologist working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, reported about 300 moose permits are issued each year, with applicants earning extra points for each year they enter. It took Thomas 26 years to finally be drawn for a tag.
Glen DelGuidice, the moose and deer project leader for the Forest Wildlife Unit of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, described his state as more of a hotbed of deer (a population of between 1 million and 1.5 million) and deer hunters (500,000). Moose hunting has not been allowed since 1996 in the northwestern part of the state and since 2012 in the northeast.
A few moose are taken each year by Native American bands, but the once-in-a-lifetime lottery system no longer exists. The moose population statewide is now between 3,000 and 4,000, DelGuidice said.
Terry Bowyer, a retired senior scientist from the University of Alaska’s Institute of Arctic Biology, has worked in several states and now lives in Oregon. He offered a primer for those looking to moose hunt in places he has done research.
“You don’t want to go to Idaho to hunt moose. It’s only for residents, there’s a once-in-a-lifetime draw for a bull, a once-in-a-lifetime draw for a cow and you might get a subsistence hunt. So that’s out,” Bowyer said. “Then I moved to Oregon. They only have 80 moose. Don’t go there to hunt moose because they won’t let you.”
But there’s another great option, according to Bowyer.
“Alaska is another story,” he said, explaining that research has dug deeper into who takes big bull moose in the state and who doesn’t. Not surprisingly, those who hired guides had the best shot at bigger moose.
“Then we looked at what the guides were doing. They were flying into low density areas where the moose were being limited by bears and wolves,” Bowyer said. “The reason for that is, those females are in very good physical condition, and those bulls that survive are absolute monsters.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter, @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.