Thoughts from a Maine moose-tagging station

On Monday, I headed to Ashland on what has become a yearly pilgrimage. Come the first week of moose-hunting season, the parking lot at Gateway Variety fills up and a steady parade of trucks and hunters return to town to tag their moose.

People look at a moose that was brought in to be tagged and weighed at the Gateway Varety store in Ashland Monday on the first day of moose hunting in 2016. This moose shot by Kenneth Hunt of Phippsburg weighed 965 pounds. Gabor Degre |BDN

People look at a moose that was brought in to be tagged and weighed at the Gateway Varety store in Ashland Monday on the first day of moose hunting in 2016. This moose shot by Kenneth Hunt of Phippsburg weighed 965 pounds. Gabor Degre |BDN


But the crowd didn’t consist entirely of those participating in this year’s hunt. Of course, it never does.

Over the years I’ve come to expect plenty of curious onlookers to stop by, and that was the case again this year. One retired couple drove all the way to Ashland from Corinna — about 150 miles, one way — just to check out the moose.

Others stopped by from Presque Isle and other Aroostook County towns. And as always, there were plenty of successful hunters eager to tell their stories to anyone who asked.

In the runup to that annual visit, and in the days past, I’ve been talking about moose quite a bit. If you’re a moose enthusiast, I bet you have, too. And since there’s plenty more moose-hunting to come — the varied seasons stretch into November — here are a couple of moose-related items I think you’ll find interesting.

Got moose? Maine does. Really.

For the past few years, it’s been hard to have a conversation about moose without winter ticks being mentioned. Some maintain that the state’s moose herd is in huge trouble, and the ticks are to blame.

In Ashland, a wildlife biologist checked out many of the moose, looking for evidence of ticks that typically don’t start latching onto their hosts until a bit later in the year.

Last week, I sat down with the state’s moose biologist, Lee Kantar, and asked him a pretty straight-forward question: What do you say to people who say the sky is falling, and that our moose herd is dying off?

Kantar had just returned from the 50th North American Moose Conference, and had the chance to talk with moose experts from around the world. He said Maine isn’t alone in trying to figure out how well its moose herd is faring.

“The [status] of moose around the globe is very complicated,” Kantar said. “There are moose populations that are clearly increasing. There are moose populations that are clearly decreasing. There are populations that are colonizing in areas they’ve never been in, like the agricultural areas of North Dakota.”

And those populations are being influenced by a variety of factors, including, in some places, winter ticks.

But even here in Maine, it’s inaccurate to make blanket statements about the herd, he said.

“While we’ve had high calf losses in western Maine, in northern Maine, where we’ve seen [the population] pretty stable up there, right now we don’t have as much of a concern,” Kantar said. “But we’re studying that, and now we’re going back into our second year [of research] there.”

And while the moose herd in the western part of the state is struggling to deal with the effect of winter ticks, Kantar pointed out that the problem was likely influenced the abundance of moose on the landscape to begin with.

“We know that the more moose that you have over time, has likely created a scenario where winter ticks have done really well,” Kantar said.  “Our winter tick population has grown with our moose population through the decades. This is not a one-year thing where all of a sudden, one year, something’s happened.”

Hire a guide

Early this week, I got my hands on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s annual Research & Management Report. If you’ve never seen the report, you should try to get your hands on one. There’s an amazing amount of data to consider.

In the section on moose, I pored over the success rates of moose hunters in various Wildlife Management Districts.

Statewide, 72 percent of hunters succeeded in their hunts in 2015, as it turns out.

But here’s something to consider: If you really, really want to fill your tag on a Maine moose hunt, there seems to be a pretty simple way to do so.

Hire a guide.

I know, I know. We’re Mainers. These are our woods. We know exactly what we’re doing when we head there. We’re also thrifty. And reluctant to ask for help from others.

Here’s how that plays out: Resident moose hunters were only successful 69 percent of the time last year. Non-residents — there were 265 of them — filled their tags 97 percent of the time.

“The higher success rate of out-of-state hunters, as compared to residents, may be attributed to the higher proportion of out-of-state hunters using registered Maine guides for their hunts,” Kantar wrote in the report.

Word to the wise for future hunters.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

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.