WEST PARIS — Moose and deer tick infestations this year are among the worst that woodsmen and big-game meat processors have seen.
They're blaming the population boom on unseasonably warm weather and the lack of prolonged deep freezes during winter.
Shed antler hunters such as Jerrold Mason of West Paris and Eric Hall of Jackman noticed the problem this past spring when they found more than 60 dead moose from the Upper Androscoggin River Valley to the Jackman region.
“These are definitely not winter kill,” Mason said recently. “Of the typical winter kill animals like moose, it gets sick, it stands in a small area and basically you find 400 moose droppings and a dead moose in the middle of it.”
But what Mason and Hall are labeling as tick kills are dead moose still laden with so many ticks that predators won't touch them.
“That's our guess,” Hall, 32, said Wednesday afternoon.
He and a few friends said they found 50 dead moose calves and adult moose this year in the Jackman region while looking for horns and doing some spring fishing.
“Every single one that I had found and that the other guys had found, the snow was just starting to come off them and they were totally untouched, so it's obvious it's not a predator kill,” Hall said. “You could see ticks right on them.”
“Personally, I found 11,” Mason said of the dead moose he discovered from the Western Foothills to the Rangeley area.
“The coyotes wouldn't eat them; the bears wouldn't eat them; and they were all the way up through (Jackman), and those guys up there found the biggest bunches of them,” he said.
“It's a devastating thing when you're out there and you find a dead cow moose and you find last year's calf within a few hundred yards from her and not even knowing what's inside of (the cow) — what she lost — so we're losing a whole generation,” Mason said.
Normally, Hall said he'd find one to five dead moose every spring.
“Myself personally, I counted 25 this year,” he said. “And then, I started talking to my buddies, and between two other guys, we got up to 50.”
Since then, Hall said he's learned of more dead moose found by other friends.
“It was really alarming the way everybody was talking about it,” he said. “It's enough, you know, to raise an eyebrow; you start taking notice and that's why I really started counting.”
“In years past, there's always going to be a few weak ones that just aren't going to make it, but in my time in the woods — and I've lived in Jackman my whole life — I've never seen anything like it,” Hall said.
Mason, who makes furniture from shed antlers and owns Mason Antler Design, compiled a list of dead moose numbers after talking with Hall and other antler hunters.
Eighteen people, including Mason, found 142 dead moose across Wildlife Management Districts 2, 4, 7, 8 and 12, which stretch from the Western Foothills to Aroostook County.
Mason said he gave the list to Gov. Paul LePage when he was in Rumford this summer, and also to the Legislature's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council.
Mason said he'd like to see the state conduct a broad-based spraying program targeting deer and moose ticks and insects that are harming the state's forests.
But Dick Sprague and Steve Harris of Minot said Wednesday that they believe a prolonged deep freeze is needed to destroy thriving tick populations.
“I think we need a winter without any snow and about minus 30 (degrees) for a month and a half, because that's the only way you're going to get rid of them,” said Sprague, a deer and moose meat processor and taxidermist who owns Trophies Unlimited.
Sprague said that so far this year, they've processed 130 deer and a dozen moose and all have been covered with ticks. He gets checked every December for Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks.
“I know a lot of guys are starting to require you pre-skin your animals you're bringing in to be processed,” he said.
“We're still doing it," he said. "We wear Tyvek suits, so that way you can see what you've got crawling on you. It's not a good thing. It's unpleasant, but you do the best you can to deal with it.”
Harris, a second-generation deer and moose meat processor who owns Harris Custom Cutting, said that before processing deer and moose, he sprays himself with insect repellent.
“I've never seen a year like this and I've been doing this for 27 years,” Sprague said. “Skinning these heads, you're crawling with ticks after you get done. It's definitely a crazy season.”