OQUOSSOC — The 31st annual Maine moose lottery hadn’t been under way half an hour, and two longtime, never-before-drawn losers in the audience had finally become winners.
“I got it!” Ronald Dionne said on his cellphone to his wife, who called him from Grand Isle in Aroostook County, where she had heard his name announced on the radio. Wayne Jones of Jefferson was the other.
A change last year in the laws governing the state’s moose lottery increased the odds for entrants who had never won a moose-hunting permit despite entering the lottery and purchasing the maximum number of extra chances each year since 1998.
Those passed-over applicants were growing increasingly frustrated with the state’s only big-game lottery.
“When the lottery was in Presque Isle we were out to dinner and saw the commissioner and the deputy commissioner. Changing the lottery was all we talked about,” said Ron Tremblay of Sanford, who has won permits twice, but came Saturday hoping Dionne, a hunting friend, would finally be selected.
Until Saturday, there were 3,586 applicants who had put in every year since 1998 and never won a permit, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The Legislature voted to improve the odds for hunters who haven’t won since 1998, the first year applicants were allowed to buy extra chances in the lottery.
Under the new system, each applicant is allowed to buy only one chance at a cost of $15, but Maine residents who have bought the maximum six chances for the past 15 years and never won could keep the bonus points they had accrued.
For Jones, Dionne and many other heretofore stymied hunters, that meant they were 28 times more likely than other applicants to win one of the 3,725 permits issued this year.
“I had been really disappointed in the past. But I was feeling lucky today,” said Jones.
Dionne believes his four hunting friends from Sanford brought him luck. After he got his permit, they all waited to see if Dionne’s 78-year-old father, Lionel Dionne, who had also endured years of frustration, would be drawn.
And he was.
“This is the first lottery I have ever been to,” the younger Dionne said with a huge grin. “My father will be very happy.”
Few among the packed audience of 1,000 spoke as the names were read.
Outside, more than 20 vendors manned booths representing sporting groups and conservation agencies, all part of the three-day Moose Lottery Festival staged by the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen’s Association.
Maine Game Warden Reggie Hammond said it had proved to be the biggest festival in the region.
“It’s more (people) than the strawberry festival. Nobody knew what to expect,” Hammond said.
The festival’s co-chair, retired Maine Guide Sheri Oldham, said that over the three days, at least 2,500 people attended the youth events and outdoor displays aimed at introducing more visitors to the Rangeley lakes region.
The lottery will be held on the shores of Moosehead Lake next year, in keeping with the tradition of moving it around the state. But Rangeley guides are thinking of ways to keep their moose festival going.
“People have expressed an interest in doing it again. It’s being talked about,” Oldham said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: