BANGOR, Maine — Bright and early Monday morning, this year’s first group of moose hunters will head into the woods hoping for the best.
Those hunters also will have Mother Nature on their side. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures in northern Maine, where hunters will be heading afield, will drop into the 30s on Sunday night and will only reach the upper 50s on Monday.
In many past years, September moose hunters have had to deal with higher temperatures, which tend to discourage moose from moving as much during daylight hours.
No matter what conditions those hunters face, the state’s moose biologist says they’ll be in for an adventure in a special place.
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“There’s a beauty to Maine,” Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Lee Kantar said. “There’s a beauty to coastal Maine, and there’s beauty in different places. But the moose woods has its own feel to it. It’s a northern forest that doesn’t exist in a lot of other states. We’ve got mountains and waters, and the biggest part [of that forest] is moose.”
Maine’s moose hunting season is split into four sessions, with hunters assigned to a specific session and to one of the state’s 29 wildlife management districts (only 24 of the 29 wildlife management districts are open to hunting this year). For 2016, a total of 2,140 permits have been allotted.
Here’s the breakdown:
— Sept. 26-Oct. 1: 720 bull permits have been allocated in eight wildlife management districts in the northern part of the state.
— Oct. 10-15: 1,095 bull permits spread over 19 wildlife management districts.
— Oct. 24-29: 220 cow permits in five wildlife management districts.
— Oct. 31-Nov. 26, excluding Sundays: 105 “any-moose” permits in 10 wildlife management districts.
Kantar said moose hunting is a privilege in Maine — only those who are selected via a state-run lottery get to participate — and because of that fact, hunters make sure they savor their time in the woods.
“Once you win that permit, most people are making grand plans, knowing that it’s a limited opportunity,” Kantar said. “[They say], ‘Let’s go out there and do it right.’”
Kantar said with a variety of seasons taking place during the fall, hunters have some options when they apply for a permit. Traditionally, September hunters have a better opportunity to call in bull moose that are looking for a mate. October hunters have predictably cooler weather, and often enjoy better sighting conditions after leaves have begun falling from trees.
When the wildlife department commissioned public surveys earlier this year as part of a long-term planning effort, the results were interesting, he said. In all, about 60 percent of hunters said they’d rather hunt the October season.
“Many avid moose hunters would consider it a no-brainer that September would be the preference, because it provides the best opportunity to actually call in a bull,” Kantar said. “The idea of just having the ability to call bulls was not the sole driver.”
And Kantar said that many hunters will likely still have success calling in bulls two weeks later. When his name was drawn to hunt a few years ago, Kantar said the October season started four days later than it does this year. Bulls were still actively calling and responding to calls at that time.
Kantar said the onset of mating activity — “the rut” — is dictated by photoperiod, or the amount of daylight at a given time of year. In Maine, most of the mating activity takes place over a two-week span. But bulls may start exhibiting mating behaviors before the cows are even interested in finding a date. Thus, bulls are interested in talking to other moose — or moose hunters who are trying to sound like other moose — for longer than two weeks.
“There’s a benefit to both seasons, I believe,” Kantar said. “Certainly in October when grouse season is open, there’s got to be a segment of moose hunters who enjoy [being able to bird hunt as well]. … Usually it’s a gathering of people, family or friends.”
No matter what season hunters are in the woods, Kantar said there are two tips he’d like them to consider.
“I think in this day and age, with all the information and technology we have, No. 1 is: For your six days, you’ve got to be pretty cognizant of your weather,” Kantar said. “If Monday and Tuesday or Friday and Saturday are going to be [the coolest days], those are the days I’d focus on.”
And the second tip? Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path.
“We really want to encourage people to get off the roads,” Kantar said. “The bottom line is, there’s a lot of moose habitat across the range. Go find a place where you walk in and call, and be prepared to take a moose and handle it out there.”
Kantar said “handling” the moose in situations like that would involve field dressing and quartering the animal, then packing out the meat. Many hunters prefer to dress the moose and take it back to a tagging station whole, but that’s not necessary, he said.
“People can learn to take that moose apart in the woods and pack it out,” said Kantar, who said a video on the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s website illustrates the techniques that can be used.