Eli Shegog, left, and George Shegog of New Concord, Ohio, hunted a remote section Maine near the Canadian border the last week of September – when they harvested a 826-pound bull, guided by Master Maine Guide Ron Fournier. Photo courtesy of Ron Fournier

By all accounts, the Maine moose hunt that began in the far north in late September and moves to the midsection of the state around Greenville, Bethel, Rangeley and Millinocket on Monday, is business as usual this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the Maine moose lottery in June – when 3,135 permits were drawn (315 more than last year) – many guides wondered what would happen with the big-game hunt in which many non-resident hunters hire guides to assure success. But the annual hunt has gone off without a hitch, guides and hunters say. 

“People don’t seem to be too concerned about COVID out in the woods, in the open air,” said Registered Maine Guide Chris Colligan of Levant. “Hunters are the original social distancers. Honestly, the guys I ran across (during the first week of the moose hunt), the virus was the last thing on their minds.”

Richard Theriault, a part-time guide in Millinocket, said in the heart of moose country where he lives, the tradition and culture of the iconic hunt endures in 2020 as it always has.

“Moose hunting is a once-in-a-lifetime thing if you’re lucky enough to be drawn for a permit,” Theriault said. “I’m just coming back from scouting. It should be a good season.”

This year, out of 3,135 permit winners, 252 are out-of-state hunters. Of those, about half – or 112 – are hunters from states required by Maine to either quarantine for 14 days or have a negative COVID-19 test that was “collected no more than 72 hours before arriving in Maine,” according to a state website.

At least one non-resident hunter said Maine’s requirement of the negative COVID test was “overkill.”

“I understand this is a serious illness. But I also think the media has blown it way out of proportion,” said Chad Bowman of Westerville, Ohio, who begins his moose hunt in Jackman on Monday. “I get tested at the Veterans center, and I will before I drive to Maine. They said I’m fine.”

Bowman said after putting in for a Maine moose permit for nine years, he planned an entire vacation around his Maine moose hunt. He and his wife, Stephanie, planned to drive and stay along the southern Maine coast for four days before the hunt.

“I just love Maine. We will spend a lot of money in your state,” Bowman said. “If I get a moose this year, I will have a Maine taxidermist mount it. We’ve been to Maine a dozen times. I wouldn’t mind living there.”

Others took a different approach. Master Maine Guide Ron Fournier said the two Ohio hunters he guided the last week of September – Greg and Eli Shegog from New Concord, Ohio – quarantined in far northern Maine before and during their hunt, a stay just shy of two weeks. He said the father-son hunting team took social distancing seriously, and Fournier was comfortable interacting with them.

“We took precautions in regards to COVID including quarantining, driving in separate vehicles, and simply paid attention to normal sensible hygiene practices that everyone has been doing for months,” Fournier said. “Due to the remoteness of our hunt and our hunting camp being set up with just the hunters and myself, we eliminated risk almost completely. I personally was tested before the hunt and again after.”

The reasons COVID isn’t a big topic for moose hunters and guides goes to the remote, and isolated nature of the hunt. To start, guides say every year 80 to 90 percent of out-of-state moose hunters drive to Maine, rather than flying, so that they can transport the wild game meat back home in coolers – as much as 300 pounds or more – assuming they have a successful hunt. 

Also, shared vehicles between guides and hunters have never been part of the moose hunt tradition, largely because most hunters bring other family and friend on the hunt. So they typically follow behind the guide in their own vehicle.

“The North Woods are probably the safest place to be right now. I’m not too concerned,” said Bill Poole of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who will go on his first Maine moose hunt this week.

Poole had a COVID test scheduled for last week, before he left Pennsylvania. After experiencing a moose hunt in Newfoundland, he did not intend to give up his Maine moose hunt when he won a permit – and went to the Maine CDC website to assure he would follow the state’s safety protocols.

However, Colligan, the Levant guide, said the required test is not always talked about. He guided two parties the first week of the hunt – one from Pennsylvania. He didn’t ask them if they were tested, and Colligan said it didn’t come up.

“It’s their responsibility to do that. I’m not really inclined to question them about medical stuff. I do ask them to ride in their own vehicle,” Levant said. “I have family in Massachusetts and some of their friends came up to stay in the southern part of the state this summer. They all said nobody asked if they had a test. I don’t think a lot of asking is going on anywhere in Maine.”

A team of four hunters from Maine and New Hampshire who camped in northern Maine the first week of the hunt agreed with that. They brought in their own gas, water, food and plenty of spare tires and camped in canvas tents more than two hours from the nearest paved road. The five friends rarely saw other hunters – and never came within 10 feet of another hunter when they did, said Henry Moncrief of Alstead, New Hampshire.

Moncrief, a Registered Maine Guide, called it “a 12-day detox from the craziness of the world.”

“Going to the grocery store to get food was the riskiest part of it,” Moncrief said. “Other than that, we were isolated and disconnected from the world. It was much needed.”


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