PHIPPSBURG – The drought is over for John Chadbourne and Randy Burgess.

Friends and neighbors from Leeds, they’ve combed the Maine woods together and hunted every species imaginable.

Add moose to the list.

Chadbourne and Burgess were two of the approximately 300 listeners wedged into a sticky elementary school gymnasium Thursday night, silently praying for their names to come up in the annual computer drawing and announcement of the Maine moose lottery permit winners.

The drama ended in short order for Chadbourne, whose name was among the hundred in the first stack of papers read from the podium.

“My buddy (Burgess) is here. He’s been picked twice, but not for the last 15 years or so,” Chadbourne said. “Hopefully he’ll be one of the lucky ones tonight, too.”

Ten minutes later, Burgess celebrated the sweet sound of his own name with handshakes and backslaps up and down his row of folding chairs.

Chadbourne’s wait between his first and second moose permit was a mere five years. Burgess hasn’t had a lottery winner in his family since his daughter’s name was pulled from a drum in 1987.

“We’re all a hunting family,” said a beaming Burgess. “We actually had the head mounted from the one my daughter got. “My wife’s a little, well, not she’s not too bad about it. I mean, the thing’s 5 feet wide and four4 long.”

The odds of two pals in attendance being declared winners in the first half hour of the lottery are astronomical.

Consider that nobody’s chance of landing a permit is greater than 10 percent. Even though the number of prospective hunters has dropped precipitously in recent years, there were still roughly 60,000 applications in the mix. Only 2,880 of those were awarded permits for one of the two weeks in the split season (Sept. 24-29 or Oct. 8-13).

Since 1998, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has used a weighted system similar to the NBA draft lottery. For every consecutive year someone faithfully purchases an application at $7 a pop ($22 for six) and does not win, he or she is awarded a preference point, which translates to a better chance.

Even with nine preference points, the deck is stacked against the hopefuls. Wildlife biologist and drawing supervisor Mark Osterman cautioned the crowd that while one-third of the permits would go to someone who hasn’t won in the last decade, 8,800 applicants fell into that 0-for-9 category. Mathematically speaking, 866 of those were likely to score permits.

“It’s like rolling a 10-sided die,” Osterman said. “Sometimes you get lucky right away. Some people need to roll it 20 or 30 times before they get lucky. And some people will die before they get lucky.”

Speaking of bizarre outcomes, mere minutes after he was recognized aloud as the driving force behind bringing the lottery to his small, mid-coast hometown, Douglas Alexander’s name was announced again to raucous applause.

Alexander, president of the Phippsburg Sportsmen’s Association, had applied every year since the state moose hunt was reinstated 27 years ago.

“Never won. Never been. I’ve gone to the camp before but never actually gone on the hunt,” he said. “It’s kind of embarrassing, because I know what’s going to happen now. The harassment I’m going to take because it was down here this year. ‘The fix was in’ and all that stuff.”

Since 1999, the drawing has moved from its origin in the capital city to smaller communities throughout the state. Every year, a different group of hunters gets a chance to hear the rapid-fire reading of the names, knowing there’s a slim chance theirs will be one of the chosen few.

Chadbourne and Burgess also attended the previous two drawings in Scarborough and Rumford, to no avail.

“It’s the excitement of watching other people, you know? Even if I don’t win,” Burgess said. “But there’s always that chance you’re going to win. Now I want my boy to win.”

“You hear your name,” said Chadbourne, “and it really is like winning the lottery.”

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