Hunters sit in an observation platform atop a pickup truck while looking for moose during the 2021 hunt in the Jackman area. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

When the state held the first modern moose hunt in 1980, it was common to see the huge animals in northern and western Maine.

Expansive clearcuts — created by the forestry industry to eradicate trees infected by the spruce budworm infestation — enabled hunters to observe moose from long distances. And the weather during late September and early October usually was cool enough to ensure that moose were active.

In the early years, hunters usually could drive the logging roads and shoot a moose without having to travel too far.

More than four decades later, moose can be difficult to spot. As a result, moose hunters must be willing to adapt their tactics by taking into account changes to moose habitat and weather to improve their chances of harvesting an animal.

Maine still is home to an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 moose. Hunters just will have to work harder to find them.

“If you go out to Clayton Lake on [American] Realty Road, show me an area where you can see a hundred yards,” said Lee Kantar, moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “There are some places where you can see a little, but if you and I drove that road back in 1985, we’d be singing a different tune.”

This stretch of a logging road near Jackman shows how thick the trees can be near the road, obscuring moose, in some areas that might once have included widespread clearcutting. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

The changes in moose habitat began in 1989 when harvest limitations were placed on commercial logging operations under the Maine Forestry Practices Act. It reduced the size and scope of cutting, prohibited clearcuts of more than 20 acres and protected areas bordering rivers and other bodies of water.

The law was altered in 2014 to allow an increase in the size of harvest areas, but the change in cutting practices has meant less habitat conducive to moose and those who hunt them.

“In 2001 you could drive roads and see moose in the clearcuts,” said Registered Maine Guide Billy Walker of Walker’s Big Game Guide Service in Sumner. “They would be in the road feeding on leaves, and they wouldn’t be as spookish.”

The message from guides and hunters in the know is simple: Prepare for your moose hunt and know what it’s going to take to find one, or talk to someone who has the knowledge.

“I tell people, if you don’t have a friend in the business or can dedicate yourself to scouting and spending a lot of time in the zone you’re selected for, you need to get some help,” said longtime Registered Maine Guide and moose expert Roger Lambert of Strong.

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Given the reduced long-range visibility, there is one key element that can be pivotal in helping a hunter harvest a Maine moose.

“You’ve got to get out of the truck these days,” Lambert said. “You need to park the truck and walk down these tote roads and get yourself in position.”

Studying a hunting area using tools such as Google Earth can provide hunters with important information. Viewing maps of the hunting area could show, for example, that a cut not visible from the road can be accessed by a short walk down an old skidder trail.

Without having to dodge vehicles and hunters regularly, the moose feeding and living in those areas don’t make coming to the roads a priority.

“They’re getting harder to kill. They’re getting more spooky,” said Registered Maine Guide Randy Petrin of Long Pond Camps and Guide Services in Jackman.

Hunters who are pursuing trophy bulls also need to understand that those older, more wily moose generally aren’t standing at the roadside.

“Just to get off the road a little bit would be of benefit to them if they’re looking for a mature animal,” said Registered Maine Guide Nathan Theriault, owner of OMM Outfitters in Eagle Lake.

Many hunters will still be fortunate enough to stay in their trucks, ride the logging roads, and see moose or find places to call them in.

Bulls are particularly active, and responsive to calling, during the first week of the season, which coincides with the moose’s mating period. Younger bulls are easier targets.

“They’re less out in the open, so you’ve got to really be on your toes looking, picking apart the woods, if you’re going to be driving,” Theriault said.

The weather also hampers moose movement. On hot days and warm nights, as have been regular occurrences in recent years during the two bulls-only weeks, moose heat up quickly because of their thick, black hides.

Last year, warm temperatures were a key factor when only 57 percent of hunters tagged out during the October bulls-only week. That helped push down the overall success rate for the hunt to 68 percent, the third lowest since its inception.

Only a year earlier, 76 percent of hunters harvested a moose, the highest percentage since 2012.

The mean temperature in Caribou from 1980-89 was 53.6 degrees in September and 42.8 degrees in October, according to data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And over the past 10 years, the numbers are 57.8 degrees (September) and 46.0 degrees (October), demonstrating a warming trend.

Two tracts of evergreen trees, regrown areas that were once harvested as clearcuts, flank an area of hardwood trees in the hills near Jackman. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

Last fall, the mean temperature was 58.5 in September and 49.9 degrees in October.

“You can only hope that if warm weather is there you’re going to get a change at some point, because that’s always a big issue,” Kantar said.

Despite the challenges of evolving habitat and warm temperatures, the vast majority of moose hunters will enjoy a successful hunt. Kantar said Maine’s moose hunt is unsurpassed anywhere in the U.S.

“You look at the success rates that we have [for moose] compared with any jurisdiction, compared to any species. It’s unheard of,” Kantar said.

The state has issued 4,080 permits for Maine’s moose season, which gets underway Monday with a bulls-only week in Wildlife Management Districts 1-6, 10, 11, 18, 19, 27 and 28.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...