A moose crosses a logging road near the West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine’s North Woods. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Riding along on a remote logging road my mood could not have been much worse. It was late morning, the sun and the temperatures were high and it was Saturday, the final day of my moose hunt. Nothing, to that point, had provided any reason for optimism and current circumstances only enhanced my gloom. But hope springs eternal in the north woods.

I heard the word “bull” but it didn’t register at first. My reactions were slow and methodical as I stepped out, loaded my rifle and began searching for the animal. That was probably a positive because when the bull stopped running he was over 100 yards distant and offered only an off-hand shot. Had I been more excited I might easily have missed. Instead, I calmly settled the cross hairs behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger, then watched him drop on the spot.

A Maine moose hunt is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most, though a few folks are more fortunate. Permits are issued on a lottery basis. In 2021, there were 3,480 permits available for approximately 60,000 applicants, which translates to roughly a 6% chance of being drawn for residents. Approximately one permit is issued for every 1,388 nonresident applicants. However, unsuccessful applicants earn points for each year they’re not drawn, increasing their odds over time. Applying for districts with higher moose populations, and thus more permits, also increases an applicant’s chances.

The moose hunt is divided into several seasons. The early season, which runs from late September into early October is favored by many as it spans the rut, offering hunters a chance to possibly call in a love-sick bull. Moose are more mobile and active at this time, but weather is always a factor and warm temperatures can severely depress daytime movement. They also increase the urgency for field dressing and processing.

The mid-October hunt offers a better chance of cooler temperatures but the rut is winding down or over so calling is less effective. Instead, hunters must cover more ground to find a moose, then go to it rather than it coming to them. A late warm spell can also slow the action down.

The late-October antlerless-only hunt offers more favorable weather but prevents hunters from bagging a big bull. Many are more interested in the meat anyway, and fewer apply so odds are better. Finally, there’s a mid-November any-moose hunt. Only 40 permits are issued, and only for two districts in south-central Maine. Odds of drawing a permit are better but those of seeing a moose are much lower.

How you hunt often depends on when and where you hunt. As mentioned, the rut offers a great chance to call a randy bull by raking vegetation with a canoe paddle or a moose scapula, mimicking a bull raking its antlers on saplings; moaning like a love-sick cow or grunting like a bellicose bull. Cow calling appeals to a bull’s amorous desires while raking and grunting represent a challenge.

In all seasons, scouting is important. You can just show up in your appointed district and start hunting when the season opens but scouting in advance can vastly improve your odds of locating a moose. Obviously, the closer to the hunt you scout, the better. Still, an early pre-hunt scouting trip will at least familiarize you with the area you plan to hunt so you can focus on the good ones and avoid the bad ones.

With a plan in place, most hunts begin, and continue with lots of travel, riding the backwoods gravel roads looking for moose in open cuts. That used to be easier, but changes in cutting practices have resulted in fewer large cuts and more small ones. That makes it easier for moose to hide and harder for hunters to see them. Increasingly more hunters dismount and trudge the landscape, and some even travel to less accessible areas by canoe or boat. You might find more moose but it does present logistical challenges when it comes time to haul them out.

Alaskan and western hunters are far more flexible and practical when it comes to retrieval. They simply quarter the animal and haul it out one piece at a time. Maine regulations allow for that as well but many folks want to take their moose out whole, so they can weigh it. As a result, they tend to hunt closer to roads and trails. To each their own.

If you are among the fortunate few to draw a Maine moose permit there are a few things to know that might make for a better experience.

• Secure lodging right away. It’s often at a premium in more remote areas and cabins and lodges get booked up quickly.

• Contact a processor. They too get booked up and while some may take a few walk-ins, many will stop taking moose if they’re overwhelmed.

• Scout the area before you hunt, and make sure you have all the necessary equipment to get your moose out of the woods and clean and cool the carcass until you can get it to a processor.

• And don’t forget to bring along the shotguns. Upland bird season is open in October and November and you can while away the slow, midday periods potting partridge.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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