Maine Moose Hunting

Bull moose

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Why hunt for moose in Maine?

Maine's moose population is the largest of all the lower 48 states, estimated at 60-70,000 animals. This presents an incredible hunting opportunity for those lucky enough to win a Maine moose permit. And the appeal is no secret — every year, the Maine moose hunt is among the most coveted in the nation, with an average of 50,000 applications for the 2,000 to 3,000 moose permits typically issued.

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Who can hunt for moose?

To hunt for moose in Maine, you will need to either hold a permit or be chosen by a permit holder as their sub-permittee. Due to high demand, Maine moose permits are administered in three ways only: through a chance lottery, a competitive auction, and a small allocation for disabled veterans. Please visit our moose permit page to learn how you can qualify and apply.

Applications for the 2018 Moose Permit Lottery will be accepted online only. The deadline to apply was 11:59pm on May 15, 2018.

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When and where can you hunt for moose?

Moose hunting is allowed in 21 of Maine's 29 Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) during certain weeks in September, October, and November, with exact dates varying by WMD. Since the re-institution of moose hunting in 1980, moose seasons and areas open to hunting have changed several times, with split seasons starting in 2002.

If you win a permit, you will be assigned a specific region, date range, and type of moose: bull, antlerless, or any (you'll have a chance to indicate your preferences for each of these things on your application). You must only hunt within the WMD written on your permit, and not within any restricted areas (these are usually well marked and easily identified). Anyone wishing to hunt on Native American Territory should contact the appropriate Native American agency for information.

For more information on permitting and WMD selection, visit the Moose Permit page.

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What are the laws and guidelines for moose hunting in Maine?

Moose hunters need to know and follow Maine's general big game hunting laws as well as certain moose-specific provisions. A few of the basics include:

  • Legal Moose Hunting Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset
  • Equipment: Moose may be hunted with rifle, shotgun, handgun, muzzleloader, bow and arrow or crossbow. Shotguns using shot loads and .22 caliber rim fire firearms are prohibited.
  • Bag Limit: one moose per permit holder, per year. The moose may be shot by either the permittee or the sub-permittee.
  • Don't Drive Moose: this is illegal in Maine.

Before heading out, be sure to pick up or download a copy of the Maine Hunting Laws (PDF), and keep them handy – either in your vehicle or downloaded to your smartphone for offline access.

You'll also want to print or save a copy of the Maine Moose Hunter's Guide (PDF). This handbook details everything you'll need to know on your hunt, from legal methods for taking moose to detailed field dressing instructions.

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Making Your Moose Hunt a Success

The first thing to remember is that a great moose hunt doesn't always involve making a kill. Whether you're walking/stalking in the woods, using a ground blind/tree stand, or plying the waterways, the natural beauty of the Maine wilderness and the thrill of a fair chase makes each moose hunt a worthwhile pursuit — even when you don't tag out.

That said, your chances are strong.

Success rates for permit holders over the past 10 years have been over 70 percent – 73% in 2017. Every year, among those success stories are several moose exceeding 1,000 lbs. dressed weight; and trophy racks are not uncommon.

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Tips for a Successful Moose Hunt

1. Plan Your Hunt

Unless you live within the WMD where you will hunt, you'll need to do some planning to make your moose hunt both successful and enjoyable. Specifically, you'll want to:

Do some strategic scouting

About a week prior to your hunt, scout your district for areas moose frequent in search of food, water, and bedding. If you put your time in scouting a week before the hunt, your chances of success will improve. Spots to look include:

  • 5- to 15-year-old clear cuts – these are favorite spots for browsing moose
  • Areas with lots of young trees – moose are often found there in the fall. Look for areas with lots of saplings about the size of your wrist, and some softwoods (such as fir or spruce trees) mixed in for cover.
  • High terrain – big bulls can often be found in these spots during warmer parts of the day
  • Older, overgrown clear cuts – these still offer good food and bedding areas for moose
  • On the move – even after the rut, many bulls are still on the move looking for cows. Moose do not like the heat of the day, so they're more likely to be on the move in the late afternoon or early morning.
  • Deep in the woods – At one time, scouting for moose was as easy as driving the roads and scouting clear-cuts. But today, the number of roadside 5- to 15-year-old clear cuts has decreased, resulting in limited roadside visibility. Plus, increased access road traffic has made moose warier and less likely to be found standing out in the open awaiting opportunistic hunters. A better option is to plan your hunt off the beaten path, not unlike how you would hunt white-tailed deer.

Pack Field Butchering, Packing, and Transport Supplies

While many of the same techniques that apply to deer hunting can be translated to moose, there's one major exception - you may find yourself with an animal on the ground weighing nearly 1,000 pounds. More than likely, you will not be able to drive to where the animal falls, so you will need to carry equipment to field butcher your animal, pack it out, and transport it to a tagging station. Make sure your equipment list includes the following:

  • Game bags, large quantity of cheesecloth, or several old bed sheets
  • Sharpening stone
  • 2 or 3 large plastic bags
  • Cloth wiping rags
  • 1/4" to 1/2" nylon rope
  • Sharp axe or hatchet
  • Sharp, stout knife - at least one
  • Large sheet of polyethylene (to lay meat on while processing)
  • Sturdy hand saw, preferably a boning saw
  • Heavy- duty pulley and/or a winch or come-along – 1-ton minimum capacity

Pack Maps and Spare Vehicle Parts

If you're going to be hunting in remote industrial timberlands (and you probably will be), take some precautions to ensure you don't get lost or stranded. Bring sufficient maps of your hunting area and extra fuel and spare tires for your vehicles and trailers.

Get Some Guidance

Hunters who utilize Maine Guides are typically more successful than those who don't. To view listings of local guides, visit maineguides.org or maineguides.com.

Consider Booking a Sporting Camp

More than just places to stay, many such camps are located in popular hunting areas, staffed with helpful Mainers, and typically employ or partner with registered Maine Guides. For a directory, visit mainesportingcamps.com.

Check Out Google Earth

If you're computer-savvy, you can use Google earth to find young cuts and twitch roads/winter roads to access some of the best moose hunting areas.

2. Choose a Hunting Method that Works for You

There are many ways to hunt backcountry moose. Here are a few to consider:

Ply the Waterways

With miles of shoreline along lakes and ponds, rivers, and streams throughout the moose hunting districts, water hunts via a canoe can be especially successful, allowing you to slide up quietly on an unsuspecting moose. Floating, when used in conjunction with calling, can be most effective, allowing you to cover greater ground and provide for a wonderful hunting experience. When hunting near water, alternate calling and pouring water to simulate a moose walking and feeding in the water. But keep in mind that shooting a moose in the water can cause enormous difficulties. Some will sink, and all are hard to get ashore.

Walk and Stalk

This is another effective method. Once you have scouted out some moose holding areas, use a DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer old logging roads or jeep trails that are no longer traveled – these make ideal paths for stalking. Slowly walk the road, stopping every so often to call, then wait 15 minutes and continue your walk. When hunting with a call, give the moose plenty of time to respond; often they will travel over a mile to investigate the call, sometimes without making a sound.

Build a Blind

If you have found a prime area that moose frequently visit, you may consider building a blind or a series of blinds over a wide area using downed trees and available brush. You may want to build a morning blind and an afternoon blind. Pick out a spot with good visibility that allows for comfortable, quiet sitting. Calling is optional, but can be very effective. Attracting scents such as a cow in heat and bull urine, scent sticks, and scented gels can help draw animals within range of your blind. These work especially well if applied the night before you plan to sit.

Sit in a Stand

Hunting from a tree stand provides an added advantage over a blind by increasing your visibility and getting your scent off the ground. Again, calling is effective, but sitting quietly works well if you're hunting an active trail. Remember to refresh yourself on the laws applying to the use of tree stands.

3. Make a Clean Kill

Recommended Cartridges

As long as the bullet weight is at least 130 grains, the cartridge used is not as important as good shot placement in making a clean kill. Magnum cartridges are not needed for moose.

NOT Recommended: .243 or .244 (6mm) .303 Savage .38-40 Win. .250 (.250/.3000) .30-30 Win. .32 Win. Spec. .38-55 Win. .35 Rem. .25-06 .32 Rem. .44 Mag. .351 Win. .257 Roberts .32-40 Win. .44-40 Win. .30 Rem.

Recommended: .270 Win. .30-06 Sprfld. .308 Win. .284 Win. .444 Marlin .280 Rem. .30-40 Krag. .348 Win. .303 British .8mm Mauser 7 x 57 mm. .300 Sav. .358 Win.

Where to aim

Following Up Your Shots

Moose seldom drop in their tracks when shot and may not show any indications of having been hit. After shooting, it is best to wait a few minutes before beginning the search, and then do so quietly. Pursued immediately, a wounded moose may travel a great distance before dying. Follow up every shot, and follow the moose for a distance even if you don't find blood at first.

4. Do These Four Things Right Away

  1. Make Sure It's Dead – Approach the animal to within 10 feet. Look at its eyes. If they are closed, the animal is probably still alive. If so, kill it with a shot to the base of the ear (if head is not to be mounted). If the eyes are open and the animal is not moving, prod it with a sturdy stick to determine whether it is alive. Always approach the moose from its back side, not in front of its legs, as nerve twitches could cause a leg to kick out.
  2. Rotate the Legs – When you're certain the moose is dead, take each leg separately and straighten it out and rotate it several times. You should do this because, even after death, nerve impulses may cause a leg to strike out suddenly, possibly injuring or even killing the unsuspecting hunter.
  3. Tag It - Tag the moose with the official transportation tag portion of your moose hunting permit, following instructions on the tag. The full name and address of the person who killed the moose should be written on the transportation tag.
  4. Document It (optional) - Now is the best time for picture taking - before you get into the dirty work.

5. Properly Field Dress and Transport Your Moose

It is essential that you properly field dress your moose immediately after the kill and take every precaution to avoid meat spoilage, including proper ventilation. You'll want to cool the moose down as quickly as possible, regardless of the weather. Throughout the field dressing process, be sure to keep your moose meat free of dirt, debris and, especially, hair and blood.

How to Field Dress a Moose

Position the moose
Position the moose on its back, and tie each leg to a nearby sapling to hold it there. This may take two people, and/or a come-along.

Get Ready
Summon your patience – you will need it – and grab a pair of rubber or latex gloves.

Make the initial cuts
First, cut through the hide near the breast, being careful not to pierce the internal organs. With your hand inside the abdominal cavity and the knife pointing outside, continue the incision to the anus. If you don't plan to mount the head, continue the incision, in the opposite direction, to the base of the jaw. If do you plan to mount the head, end your incision at the brisket.

Open the abdomen
Open the abdomen, exposing the viscera; then using your axe, split up the chest bone to the brisket, exposing the chest cavity contents. If your incision is to the base of the jawbone, cut downward, exposing the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (swallowing tube). Sever these at the base of the jaw, and using traction and cutting as needed, pull downward into the chest cavity. Traction may be applied by a second person or with a come-along, dissect down to the diaphragm, tie a string tightly around the esophagus to prevent contents from contaminating the meat.

Remove the reproductive tract, if applicable
If you have shot a cow moose in WMD 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6: You must present the two ovaries and/or reproductive tract at registration, and leave the milk sack (udder) attached to the carcass. These ovary samples will help MDIFW determine the overall health and productivity of Maine's moose population.  This information is critical in determining annual permit numbers and managing moose for you!

You can remove the ovaries now, or wait until you've tied the bowel. To remove now, carefully roll the internal organs to the side until you see the point where two tubes (the rectum and the vagina) exit through the pelvic bone (see illustration below). The vagina is the tube nearest the belly. Grasp this and follow it carefully forward until it forks into two tubes. These are the left and right horns of the uterus. Next, insert your fingers under the uterus and work your hand in until the organ lies in the palm of your hand. You will notice a thin, almost transparent membrane which connects this organ to the animal's back. All that now remains is to carefully follow the horns of the uterus to the ovaries. These are bean-shaped organs one to two inches long. They may be covered with fat, so keep looking! When you find them, cut the membranes holding them in place, remove them, and place them in a plastic bag. Finally, remove the uterus by cutting through the vagina. The ovaries and the uterus should be kept as cool as possible.

Moose ovaries


Video: How to remove the two ovaries during the gutting process

Video: How to locate the ovaries within the gut pile

Audio: This podcast will guide you through finding the ovaries in the field

Tie the Bowel
Cut next around the anus. As soon as several inches of the lower bowel are free, tie it off with a string.

Remove the Rectum & Bladder
Split the hips by cutting to the pelvic bone with a knife and then split the pelvic bone with an axe or knife. This will allow you to free the rectum and bladder from internal attachments. As you do so, take care not to rupture or spill the contents.

Roll out the Viscera
Find the thin diaphragm muscle that separates the heart-lung compartment from the main digestive tract, and sever it away from the ribs. You can now turn the moose on one side and, with careful cutting and pulling, roll the viscera out, and take out all the remaining lungs within the chest cavity. This will allow the moose to cool down appropriately.

Remove the Head and Edible Organs
Remove the head at the last vertebra, and remove the tongue, heart and any other internal organs you intend to eat, trimming away any shot damage. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises against eating the liver and kidneys of moose because of possible contamination with the heavy metal cadmium. Edible organs must be cooled quickly and kept cool. For transportation, nothing is better than a cheesecloth bag. Plastic bags can be used in transit out of the woods, but you'll want to remove and store the parts in a cool place, out of the direct sun, as soon as possible.

Optional: Skin the Moose
There are two schools of thought here – some say the hide should be left on to keep the meat clean, deter flies, and prevent drying out. Loops cut into the hide of a quartered moose also provide convenient "handles." Others say that the quicker cooling of the meat with the hide off offsets the advantages of leaving the hide on. If you plan to have your moose butchered by a professional, contact him in advance to see what he prefers. Some want the hide on, others prefer it off.

Skinning the moose is easier if you re-position it on its back and tie the legs again. To remove the hide, cut it down the inside of each leg to the cut made to remove the viscera. Much of the hide can be pulled loose; use your knife to free it when it sticks. Skin out the legs and down both sides as far as you can. Then lay the skin flat and roll the moose onto one side and skin down and along the back. Then roll it over and finish skinning the other side.

Optional: Quarter the Moose
Quartering your moose in the woods can prevent spoilage and make it easier to transport your moose. Depending on the animal's size, your strength, and how far you need to travel, you may want to cut it into as many as ten portions, including the head and hide. Either way, moose meat can spoil in the hams and shoulders within a few hours; so if you anticipate any delay in getting the moose into a cooler, you should at least quarter it to allow the heavier portions to cool more quickly.

A bone saw will make the quartering job much easier, and an axe will work if used carefully. To remove the front shoulders and hindquarters, slice through the tendons and muscle tissue across the shoulder blades and thighs, and then cut through the joint in the shoulders and hips, trimming away any shot- damaged meat.

How to Package & Protect Meat in the Field
Lay down a poly sheet to help keep the quartered pieces clean, and protect the meat from flies with game bags, cheesecloth, old sheets, and/or citric acid spray. If possible, hang the meat in the shade to cool. Keep it as dry as possible, as moisture increases the chance of spoilage – so don't put it in plastic bags or wrap it in blankets, tarps, or plastic, and don't wash the meat unless you have a way to dry it.
All edible meat and evidence of gender must be presented for registration. Evidence of gender must remain attached to at least one part of a dressed animal that is dismembered and transported in several pieces. For a bull, this could be the antlers attached to the skull plate, the entire head, or the penis/testicles attached to one of the hindquarters. For a female, this may include the ovaries, the entire reproductive tract, the head, or milk sac (udder), or vulva attached to a hindquarter.

You can leave the viscera, lower legs, rib cage, head, and hide in the woods (just make sure they can't be seen from any public or private way). 

How to Transport Your Moose
Unless you can drive to the kill site or can find someone with a skidder, getting the moose out of the woods will be your most difficult task, but it will be much easier if the moose is quartered. If you do get it out intact and/or with the hide on, try to get it hung in a cool place, preferably a meat cooler, as soon as possible.

When transporting a moose to the registration station, your main concerns should be keeping the meat cool and protecting it from dirt and exhaust fumes. Although Maine law requires that the moose be open to view until after it is registered, the whole animal need not be displayed - only some prominent portion (leg, head, antler, etc.).

How to Keep it Clean – Dust and mud can make a mess of your moose. Use game bags, cheesecloth or sheets to protect open meat from flies and road dirt, don't pile gear on the moose, and take care to avoid contamination with gasoline from ATVs and spare gas cans. If you transport your moose using a snowmobile trailer, make sure you protect the moose from dirt thrown up by the tires. This is especially important if you will be traveling a long distance on unpaved logging roads.

How to Keep it Cool - Some hunters rig special insulated boxes in the back of pickup trucks or on snowmobile trailers. Cooled with dry ice, these are great for transporting meat long distances in warm weather. You can also pack ice (bagged or in plastic gallon milk jugs) or dry ice in the body cavity or around the quartered pieces. Just don't allow water from the melting ice to contact the meat, and don't put dry ice in direct contact with the meat; use several layers of newspaper for separation.
If you can't provide any other kind of cooling, at least allow air to circulate around each piece of meat. You can use a rack of tree limbs to elevate the meat off warm surfaces and separate the pieces on top of each other, but the best approach is to arrange the pieces all in one layer with good air circulation above and below.

If you have a long distance to travel and the weather is warm, don't take your moose directly home – especially if you'll be traveling during the day. Instead, take your moose directly from registration to the nearest facility with a large cooler (a custom meat cutter, a common carrier with refrigerated trucks, a supermarket , etc.) where it can be hung and cooled, butchered, frozen, or properly packed in ice for your trip home.

After the Hunt

If you harvest a moose, you can join the Maine Moose Hunters Club! Membership is open to anyone, Maine resident or not, who legally takes a moose in Maine, and every member gets a shoulder patch (limit one per year). Only the person who kills and registers a moose is eligible for the club (this could be the permit holder or sub-permittee). All you have to do is send in a form with some info on your moose as certified by a tagging station attendant, Maine Game Warden, or state game biologist, a $10 fee, and an optional photo. For more info, contact The Maine Sportsman at (207) 622-4242 or visit mainesportsman.com

If you harvested a moose any year since 2006, and are curious how old it was: Now you can find out! When you register a moose, MDIFW biologists retain one of its teeth. This tooth can help us determine the moose's age as well as other critical info about the herd. If you're curious how old your moose was, you can look it up by the year of your hunt. If your name is not listed, or no age is listed, either no tooth was submitted, or we were unable to determine the age from the tooth.

Curious how your moose stacked up, and how Maine's moose harvests are trending year to year? Check back here after hunting season to see the updated stats. Meanwhile, here are some notable stats for 2016:

2017 Maine Bull Moose Harvest

Averages - On average, breeding bulls lose approximately 15% of their body mass during the rut (September to October). In 2017, due to close timing of the seasons, this translated to a 7% decrease in average dressed weights from the September to October seasons (728 lbs. in Sept. vs. 676 lbs. in October).

Record Weight (2017) - The heaviest bull harvested weighed in at 1,005 lbs. dressed. He was 6.5 years old and was killed in WMD 4 during the September season.

Record Antler Spread - The largest antler spread was 62.5 inches with 20 legal points. He was 9.5 years old.  This bull was taken in WMD 11 in October.

Antler Stats - 16% of the antlered bulls sported cervicorn antlers (antlers without a defined palm), 48% were yearlings, and 13% were mature bulls (>4 years old)

Oldest Bull Harvested - 14.5 years old in WMD 4

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