If you’re like many hunters around the state this morning, you are either ecstatic, having been finally selected for a moose permit; or your emotions lie somewhere between despondent and disgusted, having come up empty again in the quest for that elusive permit.

Or perhaps you are like a growing number of hunters and just don’t care anymore.

Hard to believe, but it is true. While the number of people purchasing hunting licenses in Maine is relatively stable, the number of hunters who want the chance to hunt moose in Maine is declining at an astounding rate.

The number of hunters applying for a moose permit dropped from 85,275 in 2001 to 49,729 in 2010, a 42 percent decline in the decade. In fact, the number of applicants has dropped in each of the past 10 years.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that nonresidents have dropped out of the moose lottery faster than you can say “Bullwinkle.”

Nonresident applications peaked in 2002 at 24,308, and have dropped every year since. Last year, only 12,717 nonresident hunters applied to hunt moose in the state, a drop of nearly 50 percent since 2002.

With the average hunter paying $15 to apply for a permit, this loss of applicants has cost the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hundreds of thousands of dollars in needed revenue.

What has happened?

“I think the reason why the number of applicants has declined really boils down to the perception of the lottery as being both unfair — everyone knows of somebody who’s been on four hunts — and also futile. People who have put in for many years just simply give up,” said Matt Dunlap, interim executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Some believe the lottery is too complicated. At its simplest, moose hunters would purchase a chance to shoot a moose during a one-week season in one of six moose-hunting districts in northern Maine.

The increase in moose permits over the years increased the complexity of the application. Residents can purchase one, three or six chances, can rank their preferences as far as season, districts and antlered or antlerless permit. The hunt comprises 22 districts over five different moose seasons.

Adding to the decline, in 2009, the department stopped mailing applications to those who applied previously.

According to the department, revenues associated with moose applications and permits declined immediately, from $1,628,470 in 2008 to $1,473,469 in 2009 and $1,384,953 in 2010. In essence, saving a few dollars in postage and printing may have cost the department hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The decision to stop sending paper applications, especially to nonresidents, caused a significant number to drop out of the moose lottery. I also believe that many of those nonresidents are convinced that the change was made to get them out of the lottery; as a result they also gave up on hunting here,” said Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association.

These reasons and others led to a rash of bills in the Legislature this session designed to change the moose lottery framework.

“When we saw seven or eight bills come in to the Legislature that would affect some part of the lottery, we asked the Legislature to let the department look at this as a whole and come back with recommendations,” said Andrea Erskine, deputy commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Stakeholders met and presented proposed changes to a legislative committee. The recommended changes awaiting approval from the full Legislature and governor include:

limiting the purchase of chances to one per resident;

changes to the bonus point system that will expand the odds for those not selected and who continue to apply;

extending the waiting period for those selected from two to three years before applying again;

allowing an applicant to change the subpermittee after receiving a moose permit.

“I think the changes being proposed by the Legislature could go a long way to addressing that (unfair perception) — both in going back to a one-chance draw for residents, but not giving up on the bonus point idea so that people who stay in truly leverage their chances. These two changes alone could go a long way in remarketing the lottery and the hunt,” said Dunlap.

“The changes will favor people who stay in the lottery and haven’t been selected,” said Erskine, “I think people will get excited about the changes that have been made.”

Of course, if you want to hunt moose in Maine, the silver lining is fewer applications means those who do apply have a greater chance of winning.

So even if your name is not among the chosen ones to hunt moose in Maine this year, take heart, for your chances of being selected is increasing every year.

Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at:

[email protected]