Maine Moosing

One of the most coveted tags in the big-game-hunting world is a Maine moose permit. With an estimated statewide moose population of 29,000 and an annual allotment of about 3,000 permits (10 percent of which are reserved for nonresidents), Maine offers hunters a quality experience and success rates that recently have averaged more than 75 percent. That said, drawing a tag can be difficult, with applicants in the annual lottery numbering around 65,000. I have been lucky to participate in several Maine moose hunts, the first one in 2000 as a "sub-permittee." (Permit applicants are allowed to designate a sub-permittee, and either of the two may shoot the moose.) That year I hunted with guide Jeff Charles during an early October snowstorm and took this nice bull, which had a 51-inch spread and weighed 886 pounds dressed.
In 2007, after having applied for a tag for more than 20 years straight, I drew my own permit. That year I hunted with guide John McCluskey of Four Peaks Guide Service (www.4peaksguiding.com) and took another nice bull. This one had a 50-inch spread, weighed 814 pounds, and was determined to be 7-1/2 years old.
This year I remarried, and I convinced my wife, Barbara, to apply for a moose tag. I already knew she was one lucky lady, but I was stunned when she drew a bull permit on her first try. Not only that, but her sister, Paula Coffin, put in for her first time and drew a cow tag in a different district. (I should mention that Barbara's father and brother have been applying since Maine's first modern moose hunt, in 1980, and have yet to draw. Maybe next year….) What followed were months of preparation, including studying moose-calling videos, organizing gear, and making trips to the shooting range. Finally fall rolled around and it was time to get serious. There is nothing more glorious than to be in the Maine woods when the leaves begin to turn, and to be there with a purpose--scouting for moose sign--makes it that much more enjoyable.
One area looked particularly promising. It was littered with moose tracks and droppings and contained patches of alders that had been thrashed by obviously massive antlers. What's more, the series of swamps and clear-cuts was inaccessible to truck traffic due to a washed-out culvert pipe in the logging road that traversed it.
The weekend before the opener, Barbara and I drove to friend Eric Ottum's camp in the western mountains. Eric had taken off for the week to play host and to help us get the moose out of the woods should we be successful. His camp is "off the grid," but although it lacks electricity and running water, we couldn't have asked for more.
Another nice thing about Maine in October is that ruffed grouse season is open. A lot of "pa'tridge" are taken by hunters cruising the roads looking for moose.
Opening day dawned crisp and clear, and first light found Barbara and me walking slowly up "our" logging road as it wound its way through the older cuts and young growth. The view back across the mountains was breathtaking.
My first few cow calls drew no response, but minutes after we'd set up to watch a cut-over bowl, a bull appeared several hundred yards away. He was standing farther along the logging road we were on and refused to come closer. We decided to make a stalk. With Barbara in the lead, we were able to close the distance to 75 yards before running out of cover. I set up the shooting sticks we had gotten from African Sporting Creations (africansportingcreations.com) just as the bull began walking broadside in front of us. When he stopped, Barbara opened up with the Browning BAR .308 she had borrowed from her Dad.
Several shots later, Barbara had her first moose--in fact, the first big-game animal she had ever taken. Her season had lasted 65 minutes.
The bull was a trophy to be proud of, with nine points and a 42-inch spread. Almost as nice was that the brute had fallen 10 yards from the road. I was one happy "guide."
Eric was a text message away, and by the time he reached us, I had the bull gutted. Thankfully, Eric was able to maneuver his ATV and its trailer over the washed-out culvert pipe; then it was "simply" a matter of winching the bull onto the trailer.
Back at the pipe, we put Eric's pickup and trailer end to end and transferred the moose into the truck bed.
Then it was off to camp, where we moved the bull yet again: from the pickup to my trailer for the ride home. By the time we were repacked and on the road, we were one tired crew.
On the way home, we stopped at the check station, where the bull was weighed. He tipped the scales at 735 pounds. (By the way, it is a point of pride with many Maine hunters to bring their moose out whole, although this is not required.) I guessed the bull to be 3-1/2 years old, although a tooth was pulled for biologists to make the official determination.
And if you were wondering, Barbara's sister Paula and her husband, Dean, succeeded in taking a 630-pound cow on the second day of their hunt. It had been a successful season for all.

One of the most coveted tags in the big-game-hunting world is a Maine moose permit. Check out the monster moose that Ralph Stuart bagged in Maine this fall.