In 2013 Maine issued more than 4,000 permits to moose hunters who successfully navigated the lottery permit system. It was the largest number of annual permits issued since the modern hunt began back in 1980.
During the second week of the season in northernmost Maine — 400 of those permit holders were assigned to Wildlife Management Area 1. This vast, remote area http://www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/land/wmd/1.htm lies between the Allagash River and the Canadian Border in Maine’s most northwestern corner.
Logging roads crisscross the entire area and roadside campsites managed by the North Maine Woods Corporation (http://www.northmainewoods.org/) are widely
available. But other lodging options are very limited in this remote corner.
So when the largest number of moose hunters in Zone 1’s history converged on the area before the week of October 14 — 19 last year — the race for the most desirable of the first-come, first-served campsites was fast and furious.
The roads were full of pickup trucks — even three days before the season began. The weather had been dry and a thick coating of fine dust covered the gravel roads, the roadside brush, every passing pickup and most of the hunters. If you had the misfortune to be the second or third truck in a line of traffic on the American Realty Road — it was like driving though a whiteout.
At Six-Mile Checkpoint, west of Ashland, a dozen trucks waited in line to register at North Maine Woods gatehouse early on Friday morning. Each newly arrived truck was followed by a drifting cloud of dust. After registering, each party of hunters roared off in a identical cloud.
We gritted our teeth and drove on. Nearly every roadside campsite appeared to be occupied. Regular oncoming traffic greeted us — some of it was comprised of actual outgoing logging trucks. But the moose hunters going our way drove pickup trucks, pickup trucks hauling campers, and pickup trucks hauling snowmobile trailers for moose carcass extraction.
The long drive had all the earmarks of an ugly preview — this was how most of us would spend our week — cruising the logging roads, trying to avoid other traffic and waiting for
a moose to show itself. Things would be quieter on the back roads as the traffic spread out to the far corners of the huge zone — but still most of us would be be spending a lot of quality time with our four-wheel-drives this week.
Since the modern moose hunt began in 1980 road hunting has been the predominant hunting tactic. See my earlier post on this subject: http://selfpropelledtravelsinmaine.bangordailynews.com/2014/08/10/maine-roads/how-the-maine-moose-hunt-became-a-gas-and-blast-affair/
But back in 2011 — two hunting buddies and I decided it didn’t have to be that way. We
began hunting moose in a different way. The idea was to get completely away from the roads and other hunters. We wanted a wilderness hunt that would be less stressful for us and more respectful of the animal.
So I shot a moose from the bow seat of a canoe in Zone 8 that year. We were camped on the Moose River west of Jackman — 4 miles from the nearest road and even further from the nearest hunters. The moose went down at a spot that was ten miles by boat from where our trucks were parked at the boat landing on Holeb Pond.
Then in 2012 Kevin Regan, AKA “the Commander” scored a permit for northern Maine.
He killed a moose on the remote thoroughfare between Eagle Lake and Square Lake in northeastern Aroostook County. Once again, he made his shot from the bow of the canoe, after a silent paddled approach on a beautiful fall morning.
Now in October of 2013 our hunting partner, Wayne Sturdivant, had the permit for Zone 1 — and we were determined to complete the hat trick. After 43 dusty miles on the American Realty Road we pulled the trucks over at Umsaskis Thoroughfare and the bridge over the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
Leaving the roadway behind is a sweet spot in any Allagash trip — but on that October day I was never more thankful to be pulling away from the bridge in my heavily loaded canoe.
Our tactics for off-road moose hunts are simple.
1. Find a large back-country area with water access within the designated moose permit zone — one large enough for an extended trip. A river is ideal, a big lake will do, or a chain of lakes works well.
2. Use canoes to set up a comfortable base camp in a remote corner of the waterway.
Most are deserted at this time of year — but find a spot far from roads or camps.
3. Pack heavy, bring all the luxuries of home and use side-mounted outboard motors for the grunt work of transporting gear from roadside to campsite. Keep the motors handy for relocation of base camp if necessary — also to provide quick support for the paddlers in the hunting canoe, including meat transport after the shot.
4. The permit holder and his sub-permittee take turns paddling each other along likely portions of shoreline. The shooter in the bow seat concentrates on scanning the shoreline — with binoculars if necessary. The stern man practices paddling silently and hugging the inside corners of the shoreline with the canoe.
5. Enjoy the silence and the solitude until a moose is down and the real work begins.
Wayne shot his cow moose on Wednesday — during a solo paddle (no less) on one of the most remote stretches of the Allagash River. He describes it as an unforgettable, almost mystical, experience.
Back in 1998 Wayne shot one of the largest moose registered in Maine that year. The big bull stepped into the roadway, in front of his pickup, five minutes after legal shooting hours began on the first day of the season.
He barely remembers that hunt.