Heather Stokes (left) shows Kelsie Belanger how to measure and tag a moose at the Gateway Variety store in Ashland monday, the first day of the 2019 moose hunting season. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

Bright and early Monday morning, many of the 850 hunters who held permits for the September session of the Maine moose hunt headed into the woods in attempts to fill their tags. Warm weather dominated, with even northern parts of the state approaching a humid 70 degrees, and very few of those hunters had much success.

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s new big game harvest dashboard, just 46 moose were taken by hunters on opening day. That’s a success rate of just 5.4 percent.

If that trend continued and only 5 percent of hunters were successful each day of the six-day hunt, that would mean just 276 moose would be tagged, with a total success rate of 32 percent. Even if the weather continues to be warm, a total that low would not be likely — many hunters are much more selective about the moose they shoot early in the week, and will pass up on smaller bulls in hopes of finding a larger one later on. As the week progresses, hunters become more willing to simply fill their tag, regardless of the moose’s size.

The DIF&W warns that the data available on the dashboard is preliminary and subject to change, but there’s no doubt about one fact: Hunting was extremely slow on opening day.

Mark Latti, the DIF&W’s communications director, said that the department doesn’t have day-to-day tagging totals from previous years, because they haven’t tracked that in previous years. Those totals are not biologically significant. This year’s one-day total is available because the state introduced a web-based big game registration tool in 2018, and has instant access to the tagging information around the state.

Previously, tagging totals were compiled months after the close of various hunting seasons, after paper tagging booklets were mailed to Augusta for tabulating.

“The day to day totals can be fun to look at, but as a department we need to look at the entire season when managing the moose population,” Latti said. “Weather always is a big factor when it comes not only to moose behavior, but also hunter effort, and the weather yesterday wasn’t very pleasant for either moose or for hunters.”

According to DIF&W data from last year, 76 percent of the 2,500 permit holders who participated in one of the moose-hunting sessions filled their tags. In particularly moosey zones like Wildlife Management District 1 in extreme northern Maine, 130 of 150 permit-holders (97 percent) filled their tag during the first September session.

On the first day of this year’s September season, just four of 175 hunters filled their tags in WMD 1. In WMD 5, another productive district stretching west out of Ashland, six moose were tagged on Monday, out of 100 permit-holders who could have been hunting in the district.

Biologists have explained that moose are less likely to move as much, nor respond to calls made by hunters, when the weather is warm. Instead, they’ll hunker down in darker parts of the forest, out of the sun, and conserve their energy.

Last week, state deer biologist Lee Kantar predicted the scenario that played out on Monday, and had a valuable piece of advice for hunters faced with tough conditions.

“You have to be stalking and acting more like a deer hunter,” Kantar said.

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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...