Monday, June 24, 2013

What a dead moose can tell you

Three years ago, Dad and I headed into the woods to get a moose. I took a week off from work and we were rocked and ready. Zone 17. In hindsight, I can see why Rick wanted to trade permits for that zone. Throughout the week, we saw one dead moose and a spot where one was gutted. That was it. It was the second time Dad had been drawn and the first time he didn't come home with some meat.

At the start of the 2012 moose season, it was projected that 75,000 moose were roaming the woods. In my interview with Commissioner Woodcock, he spoke about the changes that were taking place this season that would allow more people to get their permit who had not.

This past fall, my brother in law (BIL) who is a biologist for the State of Maine was gracious enough to let me tag along to see what he does and why it is important to the overall health of the moose herd in Maine. We headed to a tagging moose station in Roxbury, Maine for the October hunt.

Maine biologists play a key role each hunting season as they gather information at tagging stations. Their goal is to get a biological make up of the health and wellness of the herd in the area. Their findings impact the number of permits that are allotted to each zone throughout the State.  Roxbury is in Zone 12 where 35 bull and 20 cow permits were issued, which was the same as the year before.

Before we started inspecting moose, I asked BIL some questions:
Q: Is there one certain tooth that you always pull? What can you tell by looking at the tooth?
We always take a canine tooth. We ask each hunter if they mind that we take a tooth, then we can get the age from the tooth.

Q: What information do you take from each moose? what do you do with the info?
We won't take blood, but we do some tick sampling (count the number of ticks within a certain area). We look at antler type and size. Basically, everything we collect is used to determine the number and type of permits for the future, because it gives us an idea of what the population is like.

Q: I also heard a rumor that people who got cow permits for the September season were asked to bring the reproductive organs to the tagging stations to be studied. True?
The November hunt has been around for just a few years. We started taking reproductive tracts last year. The breeding season is going on now, so by the November season we can tell if the cow is pregnant or not; we can't tell in the Sept/Oct season because it's too early or they simply may not have bred yet.   In doing some more research about this, I came across a how-to video by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that shows hunters how to find the ovaries in the gut pile.  You can view it here.

Our first moose didn't roll in until about 11, but once the first one came, there was a none stop stream of moose! And of spectators stopping by to see how big each moose was and if they knew the guy (or girl) who shot the large animal. 

Many of the hunting parties had been scouting their spots for weeks and knew the patterns of the moose.  The owner of the store where we were tagging the moose said that over the summer, he had 9 moose get hit by cars and trucks.  There was no question that in Western Maine there are moose to be had! 

For most of the early hunters that came in, their moose had been shot between 7am and 9am and it took them 2+ hours to gut it and get it loaded into their truck or trailer and over to the station.

I tried to talk to each hunter about shooting their moose and I found two people who were in the same boat as Rick; it was their first time being drawn since the moose lottery started in 1980 and they had finally been picked and had been able to go out and shoot their bull moose. They were also done, saying that they had finally gotten what they had wanted after more than thirty years and were ok with never putting in for a moose permit again.

The youngest was a 10 year old who had put in for his first hunt and had not only gotten drawn but had shot a moose.  I couldn't tell who was more happy and proud; him or his father!  There were also two women who came in to tag their moose.  Everyone was so excited to show off their prize and talk about the steps they had taken to secure a successful hunt, that it didnt matter if you had heard the same story being told three times, it was worth it just to hear the excitement and energy in people's voices.

With each moose, my BIL or a couple of college students who were there volunteering, would take the measurements of the moose, its antlers, ask the hunter if they could remove a tooth and check the animal for ticks.  Only a few people wanted their moose weighed and many of them just wanted to get the animal to the butcher or hung up at their homes.

I left at 2:30 and in just the 3.5 hours that I was there, we had seen 8 moose come in to be tagged.  My BIL said that the total number of moose that he saw while he was there was about the average for what they should have coming in for that area.  When the moose numbers were released for 2013, Zone 12 had maintained the same number of bull and cow permits as they had last year.

Fall is always an exciting time in Maine as hunters get out into the woods in search of their prize moose, bear, deer, turkey etc. While I was bummed that Dad and I did not get our moose permit last year and are skipping it this year, I was so excited to hear about everyone's hunt out in the woods.

With the 2013 moose lottery winners recently announced, I am sure there are 4,155 people, like me, who can not wait for the chill in the air to return and the leaves to start threatening to turn to those fall colors.  Their chance at their dream hunt is just a few months away and I am sure, if they are successful, it will be a wonderful and memorable experience!  Good luck to everyone!!!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Celebrating Outdoor Dads for Father's Day

Dads play an important role in getting the next generation of hunters interested and out in the woods.  It takes almost as much skill to get the kids out there as it does to make that shot and harvest an animal.  There is the concern over getting cold, keeping their attention and talking about what it means to kill (and then eat) an animal.

In honor of Father's Day and all of the great outdoor Dads,  I thought that it would be perfect to hear how Bryan includes his sons with his hunting and the excitement they had this past deer season when the boys were with Bryan as he shot his first buck.

I have interviewed Bryan before about hunting, fishing and getting his kids involved from an early age but his dedication and his son's trust in letting Dad drag them out of bed at 4:30am is impressive. I talked to Bryan when he shot this impressive deer after Thanksgiving.

Q: Congratulations on an impressive deer!  How many days did it take to be in the right spot at the right time?
This was the third season that I have been out deer hunting.  I've seen a few and taken a couple of shots but have always left empty handed.   Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we were planning on going out Friday and Saturday.  Friday morning, we did some targeting and our plan was to head out in the afternoon to see if any deer would come in before dusk.  I think it was around 1pm when Glen (Roberts) sent me a text and said to get over to his place asap!  In the field in front of his house, he said there was a 9 pointer out chasing does.  My car was in the shop, so I borrowed my wife's and grabbed the boys and we headed over. 
When we got there, I started crawling on the ground, like army style, to get along a line of trees that would give me enough cover and let me get close enough to this deer to make a good shot.  It was probably 120 or 130 yards.  Man, I was so excited.  Here is this beautiful deer and after all of the hours that I put in, I really wanted him.  I was shaking and breathing heavily but I got into position and set my gun on him and shot.  It was a good shot, but because I was moving more than I should have, it missed.  So, I took some deep breathes, calmed myself and shot again.  That shot dropped him!

Q: Were the boys excited about being out in the woods? 
They were.  This was probably the 6th or 7th time that I have taken them out.  We are usually up and in the blind around 4:30 am and they bring blankets and lay down on the floor.  My youngest is really into it.  My oldest is only sort of interested but I'm working on him.
After I dropped the buck, they came out into the field with me to help dress him.  They were so excited that their Dad had shot this deer and that they were there to see and hear the shot. It was fantastic.

Q: How do you keep the kids interested while out in the blind?
I let them use the blow calls and rattle antlers. 

Q: How big was the deer?
It was 162lbs and had a 17 inch spread. I shot it with a Mossberg 270.

Q: I have the antlers of my first and my biggest deer mounted.  What are you planning to do with the deer?
My brother wants me to do a European mount but I'm not sure. I am definitely going to do something with it to remember the hunt.

Q: You have taken your kids out on other hunts, too, right?
Yes.  We do a lot of turkey hunting and my son was in the blind with me this year.  We were there for maybe 45 minutes when a couple hens came out followed by two big toms.  It was a great and surprisingly quick hunt.  He loved it and was so excited to see the whole hunt from beginning to end.  It probably spoiled him to be honest.  Next time, he won't want to wait any longer than we had to this time.

But, it is amazing to see them become more and more interested in being outdoors and hunting.  My brother and I didnt get into hunting until we were a lot older, so it is fantastic to see them as excited about this sport as I am.  Even my wife has said she is willing and wants to come out into the hunting blind to see what is it like.  It will be a family affair before we know it!

A big thank you to Bryan and happy Father's Day to all of the amazing, outdoor Dads who are helping to get younger kids interested in hunting and the outdoor world!

For more awesome outdoor Dad's please check out these blogs:
Rabid Outdoors
Downeast Duck Hunter
Brave Eagles Hunt with Antique Brownings!
Just North of Ordinary
Button Buck
The Will to Hunt

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hunter's patience pays off with increase in permits

A few weeks ago, I sat down with the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Chandler Woodcock to talk about the increase in moose and doe permits across the State and what it means for sportswomen (and men) this upcoming hunting season. 

Q: The number of moose permits has been released for 2013 and they have increased since last year (from 3,725 to 4155).  What's changed?
A: Our biologist, Lee Kantar has been working tirelessly to get an accurate moose count.  He has gone up in a helicopter and used some new technology to get accurate numbers of moose around Maine.  The majority of the increases will be seen north of Bangor and we looked at each WMD individually to make sure we are carefully monitoring the harvest.  Greenville and Rangeley are both hunting and viewing areas for moose, so we have limitations on how many permits are issued in those areas.  We also have areas in the State that have come to us and asked us not to increase their permit numbers or to lower the number of permits issued.  We are constantly monitoring the harvest and population across the State.  We know that cows are the way to control the population.

Q: I have heard that people want to see our success rate drop a bit.  
A: We have also heard that some want to make the success rate lower.  Right now it is about 75-80% but we don't want to see that happen.  We know that with a good effort, someone who has been applying for their permit can have the hunt - and the animal - of a lifetime and we want to keep encouraging that experience to happen.
We have some fantastic big game opportunities here with moose, bear and deer.  A lot of that is because of the great focus we put on biological management.  We want to ensure that more people can take advantage of this and that it is possible to get the animal that you want.

Q: Along with moose, you will be increasing the number of doe permits by quite a bit.  What was the reasoning for this increase?
A: Mother Nature has helped us out a lot.  We have had three pretty light winters that have helped the deer herd.  The coyote/predator control has been incredibly successful over the past year with over 500 coyotes taken by the program and through partnerships with sporting groups and individuals.   That combo'd with the weather has helped the population come back.

When it comes to the deer herd, our biologist is saying that we are getting close to the 2007 population number so we are increasing the number of doe permits to just over 12,500 across Maine.  There are 3 zones that have not had any permits in the past few years that will get them if the proposal gets accepted:  Zone 3 will have 50 possible permits available,  Zone 6 will have 100 and Zone 7 will have 80 permits available.  We are also proposing increasing the numbers in Zones 12, 13, 15 and 17.  All of this is being done with the population numbers in mind and we are continuing to be cautious because we don't want to jeopardize the good work and growth that has been done in the past few years.  These proposed numbers will be finalized in late June or early July.
Q. You have a new deer biologist for Maine, Kyle Ravana.  That should help take some pressure off of Lee (who had been working on deer and moose). 
A: We are very excited about having Kyle join our team.  He will be working with Lee to get acclimated.  We have some great talent in this state with Lee now focusing solely moose, Kyle on deer and of course Randy (Cross) on bear.  

Q. I have asked you this before, but what do you see as the biggest or one of the biggest challenges in the upcoming hunting season?
A: Poaching. Easily. We can put hours and research into bettering the health of the deer and moose herds but how can we accurately manage these populations if we can't control the poaching?!  If people really care and want to help, they can report any suspicious activity or poaching they see and find in their areas.  We rely on Mainers to help us in this effort and make the herd stronger.