A moose hunt in the state of Maine, is a once in a lifetime opportunity afforded a small number of lucky sportsmen. The lottery provides the dismal odds of a 3-10 percent for residents and 1-3 for non-residents of being awarded a tag, depending on their number of accumulated bonus points. Considering the percentages, the probability of being drawn, is bleak. Not even in Vegas are those odds most of us would bet on!
If you are fortunate enough to be drawn, no assurance exists of being picked for the select moose hunting areas, unless specific reference was made on the initial application. An extremely lucky hunter will not only be drawn for a moose tag BUT it will be a bull / cow tag, timed to occur during the rut and in one of the favorable northern areas of the state. These sportsmen typically enjoy high rates of success.
Success Rate - For the remaining hunters, their chances diminish rapidly when assigned to the central and southern areas of the state with low moose densities. In addition, the southern zone moose season occurs mostly outside of the moose rut and at a time when moose hunters will be in direct competition with deer hunters. These variables add more complexity to an already difficult hunt. While statewide moose hunters boast an impressive 85 percent success rate, hunters in more centralized zones like 23 and 22 see only a limited 13-15 percent chance of success. Unless these hunters are willing to invest serious time in the woods scouting or hire a Maine guide familiar with their assigned area, their chance of failure is great.
Hunting Options - While there are moose in the Central portion of the state, they are neither prevalent nor easy to find. Where northern Maine hunters have the opportunity to ride an extensive network of logging roads and hunt massive clear cuts that is simply not possible in central Maine. Moose hunters should expect to cover serious miles either on foot or via ATV scouting and spotting for moose. ATVs will allow you to cover a lot of territory but not some of the less accessible and isolated areas that hold larger moose populations. Sportsmen shouldn’t be afraid to stray far from the roads and trails and conduct hunts deep in the woods, a considerable distance from population centers. Towns such as Montville, Freedom, Palermo, Unity and Burnham contain such “moosy” areas and have higher than average yearly success rates, making them well worth exploring.
The option to hunt from a canoe is a clever way for moose hunters to travel into the backcountry with minimal effort. Canoes also make extraction of a moose a manageable chore, rather than a backbreaking endeavor. Canoes facilitate exploration of large waters like Dresden bog in zone 22 and Kingdom bog in Zone 23. These water based trips are best taken in the early morning or late evening and best accomplished slowly, hugging the shoreline, with one person paddling and the other in the bow carefully scanning the shoreline with a quality set of binoculars.
Calling Moose - While hiking, ATVing or paddling hunters should incorporate calling sequences, followed by intent and careful listening for replies. Cow calling, bull grunting, shaking branches and the old trick of pouring water out of a large container (like a rubber boot) to simulate a moose urinating are all effective means of locating and/or drawing a moose into shooting range. Electronic calls in this situation are excellent, as many of the quality devices produce a decent level of volume. With practice, a metal coffee can and a cotton or leather shoestring are as effective as these electronic devices and cost mere pennies to construct. Many guides are able to vocalize moose calls using their mouths or with perhaps the assistance of a birch bark cone to increase the volume like an old school megaphone.
Making Sense of Moose Scents - Most hunters do not realize that moose, like deer, can be lured by sexual as well as curiosity scents. Moose are inquisitive creatures and will frequently investigate the smells of other moose or strange smells that are not perceived as dangerous. On many occasion, I have watched moose stick their heads in bear baits and sniff heavily, taking in the intoxicating smell of doughnuts. Hunters can use this trait to their distinct advantage, by using scents to pull them out of the deep woods and into shooting range. While I don’t recommend jelly doughnut as you scent spray, there are many other commercially available moose scents that are extremely effective.
Several companies make different moose lures but my personal favorite is the type that is ignited and burns like an incense stick. A trick is to take a 5 gallon bucket and drill 8-10 ½ inch holes in the sides about 1 inch up from the bottom. Take a shovel and clear a patch of earth down to bare earth in an area slightly bigger than the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. This “clearing” is to ensure that nothing catches fire while the incense sticks burn. Next take 2 or 3 sticks and poke them into the ground, light them and place the bucket over the top. The bucket will protect the slowly burning sticks from any potential rain or strong winds that could extinguish them, while still allowing the smoke to slowly escape. This set-up creates a huge scent cloud that will saturate the entire target area. Once allowed to burn all night, it is sometimes a simple matter of arriving early the next morning and shooting your moose as he drools over the smoldering bucket.
Tracking and Finding Moose - If you can manage to find moose sign it is preferable that you stay with it. Moose maintain a "home territory" of around one or two square miles. This does change a bit during the fall when bulls tend to wanderer, traveling up to 4 miles from their "home" area, in search of a suitable mate. Still compared to the travel patterns of other large game animals, this limited region allows the hunter to stake out prime travel areas in preparation of an encounter.
Though a truly monstrous size animal with bulls nudging over 1200 pounds, they are still very difficult to locate in central Maine. Low numbers create the proverbial “needle in the hay sack” scenario, creating much difficulty in finding these titanic creatures. To locate a moose, you first need to find appropriate moose habitat. This can be done by studying your Gazeteer or using Google earth to virtually scout areas with limited human access, swamps and areas bordering small lily pad ponds.
Of course, what can’t be seen using these “virtual” sources, is what land is and is not posted. Often hunting locations, identified on a map, turn into wasted scouting trips when you get there and realize they are gated and/or completely covered with posted signs. Even more disheartening is to scout a spot open to hunting, only to return a month later to find it posted as no trespassing. Trust me this happens all the time. Ultimately, your best alternative is to scout these areas early and find open areas, secure permission or know a local individual (or Maine Guide) who is very familiar with the area.
Once you locate one of these prime spots, you next need to thoroughly scout the area and attempt to locate sign. Moose sign is typically found by identifying fresh tracks, scat and/or noted feeding activity.
*Moose Tracks - The main part of a moose track is about 6-1/2 inches long, with cows and young bulls have pointier tracks than adult bulls or deer. Track strides should measure 30" to 40" long. Because cow moose give birth they have a wider pelvic girdle than males. Therefore the rear leg spread (the distance between the legs) will be wider than that of a male. The tracks left behind by the female will show the rear foot as being set to the outside of the front foot, whereas the male footprint will be set in line with or slightly to the inside. In other words, when looking at the right hand side moose tracks the rear print will be (from a cow moose) on top of and to the right of the front track. This method is of course riddled with inaccuracies.
*Moose Scat - Due to seasonal variety in a diet, moose scat tends to come in a number of different “flavors”, in accordance with what it has been eating. Scat varies widely between a meal of pond lilies and that of fir bow tips. The best way to see this difference is through pictures of moose scat linked below.
*Moose Browse and Feeding Sign - Moose are notorious grazers, like cows they slowly munch along through the wilderness snacking on willow, alder and fir bows. Moose will strip bark off willow and alders trunks to get to the nutrient rich cambium layer. These types of disturbances can look like giant deer rubbing areas with dozens of trees affected. Moose will also create rubs on trees much like a deer to work the velvet off their antlers. Fir bows will be clipped cleanly off like a pair of hedge clippers cut them. Sap oozing from these cuts can help to determine if an area has seen recent activity.
Moose can frequently be found, during early mornings and late evenings, patrolling shallow ponds and dipping their heads under the water to uproot their favorite food, the common water lily. These salt rich plants are a moose favorite. Hunters finding small ponds filled with these treats would be well served to stake out these spots in early morning and late evenings.
Conclusion - As a hunter, harvesting a moose is the pinnacle of an outdoorsman’s hunting career. To be fortunate enough to be chosen to pursue and potentially harvest the largest game animal in North America is truly a unique experience. I like nothing better than to help facilitate a sportsman successfully harvesting a moose, as their excitement in the endeavor is always infectious. Anyone is planning a central Maine moose hunt, please contact me and ask questions, I would be happy to assist.
Additional Moose Resource Links from Inland Fisheries and Wildlife: