Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

Warm weather and some unpredictable moose behavior are being cited by guides for a lower-than-normal harvest rate for the recently completed September week of moose season, but the state’s moose biologist says there’s no cause for alarm.

According to data gleaned from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife harvest dashboard, 560 of 850 permit-holders — 65.9 percent — filled their tags during the season that ran from Sept. 23-28.

Over the previous five years, an average of 77.9 percent of September hunters filled their tags.

Guide David Kelso of South Paris spent time with a client in Wildlife Management District 1, in extreme northwestern Maine last week. He worked hard to put that hunter on a moose.

“If I could have broken the code as to what was going on last week, I could write a whole new book,” said Kelso, who is also an author. “Things were happening at night. Moose being nocturnal move mostly at night so no big deal. The warm [temperatures] kept them from moving during the day.”

Kelso said he’s not seeing as many moose as he used to this year, and said he doesn’t trust the state’s moose population data, suspecting instead that there are fewer moose on the landscape. His hunter did, however, fill their tag. Still, Kelso is worried about the future.

“[I] hate to say I am old enough to have seen moose hunting come back and will probably be around to see it end,” Kelso said, referring to the beginning of Maine’s modern moose hunting in 1980, after hunting had been suspended for 45 years. “Last symposium I went to, it was predicted that by 2035 to 2040 moose hunting as we know it will be all done in Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick, and elsewhere. Very sad.”

Kelso did say that slow moose hunting wasn’t just a Maine problem last week, as his friends in Quebec also struggled to find moose.

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Lee Kantar, the state’s moose biologist, said the DIF&W opened up some less productive zones to hunting in 2018, which helps explain the lower success percentage this year. So, too, does the warm weather, which makes moose less apt to move around much.

“Monday weather was horrible and kept harvest down,” Kantar said. “While success rate is an easy measure to focus on and understand, comparisons across years do not provide much insight due to permit allocation changes, season changes, hunter behavior and weather.”

Traditionally, a higher percentage of hunters fill their tags during the September moose-hunting week than fill them over the rest of the season. One possible reason for that disparity: Moose are more susceptible to being called in late September, when the mating season, or “rut,” is at its peak. Also, the state has typically staged November hunts in areas that don’t have many moose, and fewer hunters have been successful in those zones.

A year ago, 79.6 percent of the September moose hunters were successful. In 2017, 78.5 percent tagged out. And in 2016, an impressive 85.6 percent of September permit-holders filled their freezers with moose meat.

And even in years when the overall success rate across all seasons has dipped — in 2014, for instance, when just 65 percent of permit-holders bagged a moose — September success has been a given. That year, 74.3 percent of September hunters managed to fill their tags. That trend likely means that when this season’s moose seasons finish up, hunters will have experienced historically poor hunting success.

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 WMDs.

— Oct. 28-Nov. 2 with 650 cow permits in 6 WMDs.

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

Up in WMD 1, outfitter Sue Underhill Kelly, who runs Tylor Kelly’s Camps with her husband, Wade Kelly, said the season was a struggle.

“We had six guided hunts, five got moose. The other party did shoot twice at a bull but missed. So we should have been six for six,” She said. “Sounds like a good season right? Wrong.”

She said bulls were not responding to calls, and each bull that a hunter shot had been spotted in the open.

“There were some pre-rut signs like smashed up bushes, but not in full swing,” she said. “Second, we have generally seen less moose in the woods this summer and fall. We also didn’t get any big boys which is unusual. The weather didn’t seem like a factor for us.”

Watch: The quick-and-dirty guide on how to call a moose

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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...