In Ashland and Fort Kent and tagging stations scattered across the northern tier of Maine, successful hunters and curious spectators have spent the beginning of this week trading stories during the first week of the state’s moose hunt for 2015.
Some onlookers stop by from just around the corner, while others travel much longer distances in order to watch as the moose are registered at tagging stations.
Last week Lee Kantar, the moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, sat down to talk about the state’s largest land mammal. Among the topics covered: Moose as food … the health of the moose herd … and the age-old question, “Why do so many people flock to those tagging stations to stare (and take photos of) dead moose?”
Kantar said the animal’s iconic status in Maine contributes to its popularity, whether it’s being watched by photographers, pursued by hunters, or ogled at a tagging station.
“For me and many people, the sheer size of a moose is awesome,” Kantar explained. “Any way you slice it, it’s awesome. It’s the largest member of the deer family.”
For those who annually apply to win an opportunity to hunt a moose, the excitement takes on another dimension when the hunt — often their first — finally takes place. Friends and family members tag along, pitch in, and embark on a shared adventure in the Maine woods.
“There’s a spirit that happens during a moose hunt. It’s fun to be around,” Kantar said. “There’s a lot of energy, of excitement. [We’re lucky that] we can go out and see moose in a beautiful state in a beautiful setting, and we also have the opportunity to hunt moose.”
While spectators at tagging stations may pay close attention to the size of a moose’s antlers, and sometimes ask the successful hunters what their plans are for a taxidermied mount, Kantar said one of the most important parts of the hunt can be overlooked.
“The amount of pounds of moose venison that is taken during the hunt provides an incredible meat source for a lot of people. The numbers are astounding,” he said.
Figure: this year, 2,740 hunters received moose permits. If, as has been the case in previous years, the success rate hovers around 80 percent, that means that about 2,200 moose will be shot by hunters this year.
Kantar said an 800-pound moose will provide 350 to 400 pounds of meat to the hunter.
“You can certainly feed a family of four for well over a year [on the meat of a single moose], where they don’t have to purchase any other meat,” Kantar said. “It’s all-natural moose venison, and you know where it comes from. I don’t think we talk about that enough. That’s a critical piece of the hunt.”
Some families prefer moose steaks and roasts, but an average moose will also provide plenty of sausage and mooseburger. Those with dehydrators also make their own moose jerky.
Maine’s modern moose hunt was first staged in 1980, on a one-year, experimental basis. After a year hiatus, it returned in 1982 and has been held every year since.
This year’s hunt is split into four sessions. The first six-day session began on Monday and wraps up on Saturday. Future sessions will be staged from Oct. 12-17, Nov. 2-7, and Nov. 2-28.
Some Mainers maintain that the state’s moose herd has shrunk in recent years, and warn that biologists should be more conservative when they allot permits in the future.
Kantar conceded that the 76,000-moose estimate that was established in 2012 is likely not accurate any longer, but said research, including aerial surveys that have been conducted over the past two years, will help biologists as they make plans in the coming years. Biologists are currently working on establishing an up-to-date population estimate.
“We’re basically going through a new process of rotating through [areas that we’ve already surveyed] and going back and surveying again,” Kantar explained. “It’s going to be a bit of time before we come back with a brand new estimate, but it’s something we’re working on.”
In the meantime, he says he’s confident that Maine biologists are gaining an understanding of the state’s moose that was not previously available. The DIF&W is also working on a new 10-year management plan for moose.
“We’ve really developed and created a very dynamic moose management and research program that certainly equals anybody else’s in North America,” Kantar said. “This is a really significant [research] project that Mainers can be real proud of, because it’s really giving us a lot of information to make the best management decisions possible for everybody who enjoys moose.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke