Musings from a moose-tagging station

Thoughts from a tagging station …

  • A trip to Ashland on opening day is all it takes to remind one that Maine’s moose-hunting tradition is still thriving. Blaze orange caps abound in the dirt parking lot of Gateway Variety, the town’s tagging station. Five trucks sit in line, hunters waiting for their moose to be weighed. For many, the hunt marks a victory of sorts, in that their name has finally been drawn after years of fruitless entry into the state’s permit lottery. Other (more lucky) hunters are enjoying their second, or fourth, or sixth hunt. Most have taken time off work. Most have assembled friends and relatives as part of their hunting party. All are happy.
  • BDN photo by John Clarke Russ Gateway Variety in Ashland was bustling with hunters as 22 moose were tagged there by noon Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 on the first day of hunting season. Helping hoist and weigh a bull is Matthew Bert, 15, of Presque Isle, a member of the family that owns Gateway Variety.

    Moose hunting doesn’t sound like much of a spectator sport. Tagging that critter after it has been hauled back to town? The same. Or is it? For years, curious on-lookers have flocked to the state’s most popular tagging stations to watch as hunters bring moose back to town for registration and weighing. Oh, what we Mainers do for fun.

  • Everybody has a guess as to how large each moose is. Note to Hollywood Casino: I doubt this kind of betting is legal in Maine, but if it ever is, I suggest you apply for the “guess the weight of a moose” concession at tagging stations across the state.
  • Interestingly, nearly everyone who guesses the weight of a moose misses the mark by being overly conservative. Ask around before the moose is hoisted and you’ll learn that the highest estimate was 765 pounds. When the moose weighs in at 845, everyone looks sheepish (except the fellow who has come closest).
  • My hypothesis on the trend toward low-balling the weight estimates: Nobody wants to be known as “that guy” who always guesses high. Why? Well, since we’re talking about guesses here, I’ll take a wild guess of my own and assert (half-heartedly) that once you’ve been outed as a high-guesser, you pals will get suspicious at inopportune times. As a certified high-guesser, it’ll be pretty hard to convince your fishing and hunting buddies that you nearly caught a four-pound brookie, or crossed paths with a 200-pound buck. By guessing high, I (more or less) believe that you’re essentially establishing your own exchange rate that those buddies will apply to any future estimates you choose to make. If you think a 750-pound moose is a 1,000-pound bruiser, your friends will believe little else that you tell them from that day forward. Don’t believe me? Try it.
  • Everyone who tags a moose has a tale. Most will tell you the story. Few will get to tell their story without their buddies jumping in and correcting them, cajoling them, or telling them how bad a shot they were.
  • When the technician at a tagging station pulls a tooth from the moose (which is done each year so that biologists can determine the age of each moose harvested), some wise guy will make a dentist joke. Every .. single … time. Count on it.
  • At moose-tagging stations, the color of the day will be blaze orange. The pattern of the day will be camouflage. Wear any other garb (blue jeans are OK) and you’ll mark yourself as lookie-loo … or a reporter.
  • Those who are taking part in this year’s moose hunt are not the only people with stories to tell. Opening day also marks the only time all year that some people get to relive their epic 1987 hunt. Their wives won’t listen any more. Their friends will disown them. But moose hunters? They’ll listen … for a bit, anyway. And once a year, their fellow story-tellers know exactly where to find a captive audience.
John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.