The Portland Press Herald

Moose hunting is an annual tradition that’s uniquely Maine, one in which families plan trips that will create stories told for generations. Yet some Maine hunters have walked away empty-handed from every state-sponsored lottery for moose hunting permits.

Their chances will improve soon.

Last year, the Legislature improved the odds for hunters who haven’t won a moose permit since 1998, launching a system that allows hunters to buy extra lottery chances.

“In the next five or six years, there will be very few people who have applied every year and not won,” said Mark Ostermann, a computer specialist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Over the past seven years, the number of permits in the moose lottery has increased while the number of people applying for them has decreased dramatically. Despite that, there still are 3,586 regular applicants who have never won a permit since 1998.

It didn’t seem appropriate to announce the changes at last spring’s moose lottery, said John Pratt, wildlife division supervisor for Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. As a result, many hunters don’t know about the change. But when told of it, several approved.

“I think it’s a great thing. Lots of people pay taxes and buy hunting licenses that pay for fish and game work. I think they deserve it,” said Jerry McLaughlin, of New Sweden, founder of the Aroostook County Conservation Association.

Roger Lambert, of Strong, who gives moose hunting seminars at the Maine Sportsman’s Show every March, said the changes are significant. For years, Lambert has heard hunters complain at his seminar about never winning a permit. Now that outcry will end. And the registered Maine Guide said most Maine hunters will want to “give someone else a chance.”

“It has advanced the opportunity for people who are devoted and dedicated, and I think that’s wonderful,” Lambert said. “The result of the weighting will be huge. Those changes in my mind will bring a lot of people back to the lottery and rejuvenate it, and give them a chance to go on a world class hunt. We used to have 95,000 applicants, now we have 45,000. We lost half of them.”

Longtime applicants favored

Maine’s moose hunt has been held annually since 1982, with permits allotted through a lottery to applicants who pay for chances. Since 1998, the lottery system has allowed hunters the option to buy as many as six chances. Last year the extra chances cost hunters a total of $22 for six and $12 for three, compared to $7 for just one chance.

Still, 3,586 hunters who bought the maximum number of chances every year in the bonus-point system have never been drawn, Ostermann said.

This year’s lottery will take place the second week in June. It Ostermann said it is expected to be held in Rangeley, a departure from the recent trend of using commercial venues like L.L. Bean in Freeport, Cabela’s in Scarborough and the Kittery Trading Post.

Last year, 49,887 hunters applied and 3,862 permits were issued. This year, the department is proposing 3,840 permits, 10 percent of which are allocated to nonresidents.

The lottery changes now will favor longtime applicants, Ostermann said. In the new system, each applicant will be allowed to buy only one chance. But Maine residents who have bought the maximum of six chances every year since 1998 will keep the 28 bonus points they have accrued. That will make them 28 times as likely to be drawn as a first-time applicant, Ostermann said.

The actual odds of winning can’t be predicted until the number of applicants is known.

The change does not affect non-residents, who can continue to buy one, three or six chances, since their lottery for 10 percent of the permits is held separately.

In addition, permit winners this year and in future years will have to sit out three years before they can buy another chance, again reducing the odds for resident applicants who have never been drawn. Most of the long-time bonus point applicants tend to be those with the maximum number of points. Those with fewer points tend to skip a year, Ostermann said, never allowing them to accrue many points — another fact that will give the long-time and unsuccessful applicants an edge.

Still some detractors

Not everyone is a fan of the new system.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, who as a state senator served on the legislative committee that worked on the new law, doesn’t like the change.

“For me, you take your chance and hopefully you get drawn. I am sympathetic to those who get older, when your health is deteriorating, and you don’t get a moose permit. But ultimately, it no longer becomes a lottery if it is weighted so strongly that people are guaranteed a permit,” said Trahan, who has been drawn twice.

Some hunters remain skeptical.

Jim Doody of Caribou has bought chances most years since the lottery began 30 years ago. He doesn’t believe the lottery will ever work.

“I don’t trust the way it’s drawn. How can you trust it when two and three and four people in the same family get it? I see it all the time. It discourages a lot of people,” Doody said.

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