Moose-hunting mania will descend in grand fashion on Freeport today when L.L. Bean hosts the state’s moose-permit lottery. Hunters in southern Maine say that’s fitting.

Local hunters say having the lottery in the heart of southern Maine is a testament to the fact that the state’s hunting tradition is alive and well — even in populated areas.

“My game was gray squirrel when I was 9 because my grandmother liked to make a nice squirrel meat pie and it was wonderful … Now, I hear it from other members of our club and they’re all interested in hunting. It’s just one of those good things,” said 87-year-old Ernie Tebbets of Durham, one of the founders of the 60-year-old Durham Rod and Gun Club.

Mac McKeever, L.L. Bean’s senior public relations representative, said this is precisely why L.L. Bean wanted to host the moose lottery for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“It means a lot. We were extremely honored and very flattered when our wish was granted by the department,” McKeever said. “It’s a monumental event to do justice to this event, and also to the celebration of the moose lottery. We’ve put together a terrific array of family oriented activities … It’s a great way to celebrate Maine’s rich and illustrious hunting and fishing heritage.”

Today’s events begin at 11 a.m. and include a moose call seminar, a free archery range, and seminars on moose hunting.

Drawing of the moose permit winners begins at 6 p.m.

There will be 3,140 permits drawn for the fall hunt, which last year had a success rate of 82 percent.

Roughly 49,700 hunters applied this year, said Mark Ostermann, the department’s computer specialist.

While many states are seeing a decline in hunting license sales, southern Maine’s hunting tradition continues to mirror that of the state’s heavily forested northern regions.

While Maine experienced about a 5 percent decrease in hunting license sales over the past decade — from 207,004 in 1999 to 195,568 in 2009 — the decrease was worse — as much as 29 percent — in other New England states, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And hunters in southern Maine say hunting seasons — from waterfowl to wild turkey, bear-baiting to the fall deer hunt — are thriving in southern Maine.

“Probably the last 15 years I’ve done my hunting in the North Berwick area. Even when I was living in New Hampshire, I came to hunt in Maine in North Berwick, my brothers and I. You see people (hunting) out there quite often,” said Biddeford native John Giguere, a hunter for 50 years and officer with the York County Fish and Game Association.

Paul Bennett, who ran Bennett’s Gun Shop in Freeport for 25 years, said the bulk of his customers were enthusiastic hunters from southern Maine.

Bennett, who closed the store a few years ago, said even though it was a block from L.L. Bean, there was plenty of business among southern Maine hunters.

“I had more business than I could deal with,” said Bennett, 66. “It was a lot of fun. Hundreds of customers.”

For the folks at L.L. Bean, being able to celebrate that hunting tradition will make today like a holiday.

“When you think of the Maine moose hunt, no animal is more symbolic to Maine than the moose,” McKeever said. “And the moose hunt is an annual tradition in Maine.” 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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