Last autumn, more than 76% of permitted hunters in Maine shot a moose. That made 2020 the most successful year for moose hunting since 2012.
In total, 2,382 of 3,135 licensed hunters killed a moose over the course of the year, the Bangor Daily News reports.
Maine moose hunts are divided into separate seasons. Hunters get assigned to a certain Wildlife Management District during a set time frame. In 2020, the moose hunt had four different seasons and a total of 3,135 licensed permits.
Ninety percent of the permits went to Maine hunters, and the rest went to out-of-state residents.
Lee Kantar is a moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He told the Bangor Daily News that as temperatures climbed, he thought hunters would have a harder time finding targets. The animals were less likely to be standing out in the open under the sun’s heat.
“We spent at least two, maybe three days with unseasonably warm temperatures. That was really frustrating — temperatures in the 80s in Fort Kent,” Kantar said. “I was kind of hoping that fewer moose would come in [to the tagging station], due to the temperatures and the lack of people’s preparation for that incredible heat. And yet, a ton of moose [were registered].”
As is often the case, the areas with higher moose population densities offered the best hunting opportunities. And it turned out the weather had no effect on that dynamic.
“I’m not sure there was any different story when we look at 2020 versus any other years,” Kantar said. “District 9, which is on the east side of Moosehead, had a very successful season in October. Here and there there are some very high success rates, and some that were not that high.”
Hunters also faced another difficulty. In 2019, the state legislature passed a law that moved upland bird hunting season into their timeframe. That meant moose hunters had to share the forests with bird hunters during their hunting season.
“We had that earlier bird season that coincided with the moose hunt [in late September], and that presented some challenges on top of the fact that we’re living in the COVID world, so we’ve had an increase in hunters,” Kantar said. “It increased the potential for conflict, because there’s only so much land out there to hunt on.”
Fortunately for the moose hunters, the crowding in the woods had no measurable impact on their success rate.
Maine’s record for moose hunting success remains the 1991 season. That’s when 95.9% of permitted moose hunters bagged a moose.
Moose hunting in Maine saw its heyday from 1988 to 1998, according to the Bangor Daily News, when for most of those years, more than 90% of licensed hunters shot a moose. The rate dropped below 90% after 1998, hitting a low of 65.3% in 2014.
That said, “there are a lot of moose hunters who understand that those success rates are phenomenally high for a big game animal, when you compare that to rates [for other animals] across the United States,” Kantar said.
The success rate of hunters targeting deer, bear or wild turkeys is much lower. In Maine, it can be anywhere from 18% to 30%.
Maine does a permit lottery each year to decide which hunters will get permits. Hunters who win the lottery have to opt out of the next three before they are eligible for another one.