Beginning this weekend, moose hunters will start rolling into the Maine woods to get ready for the first (of four) “opening days” of the multi-session hunt.
According to the state’s moose biologist, the calendar will give first-season hunters an advantage they don’t always receive.
“[The seasons] wind up a little bit later this year, because [starting dates] are all tied into the timing for bear baiting, and the calendar year,” explained Lee Kantar of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “So once in awhile we get these years where the September [moose] season is kind of a week late and it runs into the beginning of October.”
The good news: That just means that the moose are more apt to be amorous, and actively “chatting” about possible love connections.
“We know right now that moose are right at it,” Kantar said. “They’re getting pretty antsy right now and essentially breeding season is upon us. It’s really a two-week time when the peak of breeding season is.”
That breeding — or “rutting” — behavior isn’t dictated by weather, Kantar said, but is triggered by the amount of sunlight the area gets in a given day. That’s why the rut is so predictable.
“[This year] I think that’s good news for moose hunters because the rut itself is at the end of the month, so it’s perfect timing for [the first week of the season this year], really.”
When moose are talking to each other, it’s easier to figure out where they are. And when hunters start doing their best moose impressions — calling to lovesick bulls — they have a better chance of luring one of those burly critters within range.
This year a total of 2,740 moose hunters won the right through a lottery to hunt moose during one of the four seasons, in predetermined Wildlife Management Districts.
The first six-day session begins Monday and runs through Oct. 3. The hunt will be staged in eight northern and northeastern WMDs, with 850 bull tags in play during that period.
Other hunting sessions:
— Oct. 12-17 in 19 WMDs, with 1,210 permit-holders also looking for bulls.
— Nov. 2-7 in five WMDS, 550 cow tags
— Nov. 2-28 (including Oct. 31 for Maine residents) in five WMDs. The 105 holders of permits during that season can shoot a moose of either gender.
Each of those seasons has a different feel, and hunters will encounter different scenarios. Here’s Kantar’s brief on each:
September season: “The September hunt is absolutely, clearly a world-class bull hunt,” Kantar said. “There’s a limited amount of permits, they’re all bull permits, and it’s got to be one of the premiere experiences because it provides the highest probability to actually call in a bull and be close [to the animal]. That sets it apart.”
October season: “You’ve got an October season when the rut is waning, but the cows are still calling and there’s still breeding activity going on. It may be a little bit more of a challenge and there might be less talking between bulls and the cows out there, but there’s still that opportunity,” he said. “And in October, for the most part the leaves are off the trees, so you have increased visibility, which helps as far as distance is concerned.”
November 6-day season: “This is pretty much a cow hunt,” Kantar said. “Cow hunts are very important because we have places where we have a moderate to high density of moose. Too many moose, so to speak … can impact the health of that population. The way to keep that population in check is to have some level of cow removal. And you remove cows at that point [in the year] because it gives the longest period of time, if that cow has a calf in tow, for that calf to benefit as long as possible from being with a cow.”
Monthlong November hunt: “[This hunt] corresponds with our rifle deer hunt. It’s four weeks, it’s any-moose, it’s a lower success rate in places where moose are at a low density,” Kantar said. “The people of Maine decided many years ago that it was acceptable to them to have some level of hunting in what is called the ‘southern’ part of the state, although it’s not all southern.”
Many Mainers — or visitors to Maine — make a point of stopping by a tagging station to check out the activity during the moose hunt, and starting Monday, Kantar said there are a couple of spots that will take lead billing.
“Quigley’s in Fort Kent, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Kantar said. “Between that and Gateway [Variety] in Ashland, those two stations see more moose than anybody else, any time. And if people are wandering through Presque Isle, they can stop at Ben’s Trading Post.”
During the October week, when more WMDs are hosting moose hunters, Kantr said tagging stations in Greenville, Jackman, Eustis and Oquossoc are also worth stopping by.
BDN heading to Ashland
The BDN Outdoors crew — at least photographer Linda Coan O’Kresik and I — will be headed to Ashland on Monday, and we’ll be hanging around at Gateway Variety to hear the moose tales as happy hunters begin arriving.
If you’re in the area, stop by to say “hi.”
And if you’re unable to get out to a tagging station on Monday, be sure to check in on the BDN website. We’ll have a story up as soon as possible that afternoon, along with plenty of cool photos.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke