A moose head rests on the tailgate of a pick-up truck at the Gateway Variety store in Ashland on Monday, the first day of the 2019 moose hunting season. Credit: Gabor Degre

ASHLAND, Maine — Of all the hunters who headed into the Maine woods on Monday morning, the opening day of the six-day moose season, Dale McWilliams was surely among the most grateful.

McWilliams, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, has long wanted to go on a Maine moose hunt. And he’s been entering the state-run permit lottery for a long time.

“Thirty years, at $100 per year,” McWilliams said in a thick southern drawl, explaining the annual investment he has made to simply enter the state’s moose permit lottery.

This year, that wait came to an end. He was one of 850 hunters who headed out to try to fill their tags. And after a 30-year wait, the hunt was over in a flash. McWilliams wasn’t worried about the duration of the hunt, though. He was all smiles.

“It went pretty quick. It was right after daylight. [Guide Shane Maurice] called it in. It was over with. We come here for some moose meat, and we got a load,” McWilliams said.

Credit: Gabor Degre

Maurice, who guides for Eustis Ridge Outfitters, said the weather was a bit of a concern, but it didn’t stop McWilliams from filling his tag.

“It was hot and kind of miserable this morning, but we walked down and called him out of a thicket and Dale decided it was the one he wanted to take, and he put a good shot on it and made it real easy on me,” Maurice said.

Rain showers began falling at 10 a.m., and swarms of mosquitoes — not a typical sight in mid-September in northern Maine — took advantage of the 70-degree Fahrenheit temperatures to create another nuisance that hunters had to deal with.

Unseasonably warm weather can make moose less likely to move, and to respond from calls by hunters that are trying to draw them within range. As of noon Monday, just three moose had been tagged at the Ashland station, which is typically the busiest in the state.

Heather Stokes, a Gateway Variety employee who has been scrambling onto trailers, pulling moose teeth and weighing the moose for 10 years now, said she knew the weather was going to be less than perfect.

That’s just the way it always is, she said.

“Never fails. First day, second day [of moose season], right about when we start getting moose in, we have a downpour,” Stokes said.

Nearby, Leslie Eisenhower of Lamar, Pennsylvania, offered up a spare umbrella that she had packed before she and her boyfriend, John Lundy, made the 16-hour drive to Ashland spend a short vacation at the tagging station.

“No thanks. I gave up on that,” a laughing Stokes said. “The first couple of years I worried about the rain. Now I just bring a change of clothes.”

Credit: Gabor Degre

Lundy’s brother lives in Portland and had a moose permit in 2005. Lundy got one himself in 2015. And since then, he and Eisenhower have made annual pilgrimages to Maine during moose season, where they visit tagging stations and make new friends.

They’re not hunting. They’re just watching, chatting and having fun.

“I’d never seen a moose [before we started coming up],” Eisenhower said. “He said, ‘We could go up and hang out at the check station, and I didn’t know what that was.’ But then we got here, and there were all these people hanging out. It was pretty cool.”

Lobsterman Ron Simmons, 81, of Port Clyde was on his fourth Maine moose hunt, and he, too, wasted little time filling his tag.

He bagged a 740-pound bull that sported antlers with a 36 ¾-inch spread. And even a flat tire on the way to his group’s chosen hunting spot didn’t dim his enthusiasm.

“We knew what we were doing We had my grandson go underneath the truck to get the spare tire out change it out, but then by daylight we were all set and ready to hunt,” Simmons said.

His group of six family members scouted the area on Sunday and found plenty of moose sign in the spot they targeted Monday morning.

“Two weeks ago we were here and it was rainy, muddy, and we couldn’t do much, or see where they were,” Simmons said. “But today, we hadn’t been in there more than 10 minutes and there he was, standing down in there, 200 yards away.”

Credit: Gabor Degre

Maine’s modern moose hunt was reinstated in 1980 on an experimental basis. After a one-year hiatus, the hunt resumed in 1982 and has been held annually since then. This year a total of 2,820 moose permits were allotted to hunters who entered the permit lottery.

This year’s moose-hunting sessions:

— Sept. 23-28, with 850 bull permits in 11 Wildlife Management Districts.

— Oct. 14-19 with 1,280 bull permits in 18 districts.

— Oct. 28-Nov. 2 with 650 cow permits in six districts.

— Nov. 4-30 (including Nov. 2 for Maine residents) with 40 any-moose permits in two districts.

The permits are allotted by a state-run lottery. Once selected, the lucky hunters are required to purchase a moose hunting permit. Maine residents pay $52 for the permit, while non-residents pay $585. They must also purchase a Maine big game hunting license ($26 for residents, $115 for non-residents).

Related: How to field dress a moose

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...