GRAY — New England’s autumn moose hunting tradition is attracting fewer prospective hunters as the animals’ populations decline and sportsmen lose patience with the long odds of getting a coveted permit.

Moose hunting in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire remains popular, as tens of thousands of people from around the country continue to enter the states’ moose lotteries in the hopes of bagging one of the massive animals for a trophy or some steaks. But state data show the number of people entering the lotteries has declined substantially from ten years ago: 73,775 to 53,577 in Maine, 15,505 to 10,420 in New Hampshire and 13,382 to 9,666 in Vermont.

The states’ moose herds have shrunk because of factors including lower reproductive rates and parasites like winter ticks and brainworm, resulting in cuts in available permits. Maine’s herd fell from about 76,000 in 2012 to between 65,000 and 70,000 today, state officials have said. New Hampshire’s fell from about 6,000 to about 4,000 since 2004 and Vermont’s from about 5,000 to about 2,500 since 2006, officials said.

Some hunters said the shrinking herds have made the oft-expensive hunt – which requires finding, shooting and hauling away a potentially 1,500-pound animal – a more difficult affair. Others said excitement about the states’ moose hunts – instituted in the 1980s and 1990s and greeted with a rush of moose lottery entrants in all three states – may have waned.

“In the early years, it didn’t matter – you’d quit your job to go shoot that moose,” said Howell Copp, who owns a popular gun store in Gray and has hunted moose since the state’s hunt began in 1980. “It’s just not as big of a thing as it used to be.”

Maine distributed 3,095 moose permits for this year’s season, which ended Nov. 29. That’s a cut of more than 1,000 permits from 2013, when hunters harvested 3,015 moose. Harvest numbers for 2014 are not yet counted, state officials said. Vermont and New Hampshire, which have shorter and more limited moose seasons than Maine, both issued fewer moose permits and had smaller harvests than any hunting season in more than a decade.

While the odds of getting a permit this year were long, they were longer 20 years ago, when more than 90,000 people applied for 1,200 permits in Maine. The odds of getting a moose permit in Vermont are also better than 20 years ago, when the state issued only 40 permits, but recent cuts to the number of permits may have discouraged some hunters from entering the lottery, said Cedric Alexander, Vermont’s moose biologist. Vermont issued 1,223 moose permits in 2009 and 343 this year, state data show.

“It’s reduced interest overall, probably because the high permit numbers stimulated marginal would-be moose hunters to apply that year,” Alexander said. “When the number went down, those more marginal guys dropped out.”

Tom Ventresca, a Gray hunter who has entered the Maine moose lottery in more than 30 years and never gotten a permit, said the lower population of moose means the animals are less likely to be found – and hunted – near roadways. Ventresca, who has participated in four moose hunts as a guest of a permit holder, said the idea of finding a way to haul a half-ton moose out of Maine’s dense forests isn’t necessarily appealing to a casual hunter.

“The moose are getting smarter,” Ventresca said. “They’re deeper in the woods.”