OQUOSSOC — The still-elusive Western Maine moose population stayed undercover Saturday, despite the romantic calls of love coming from the Oquossoc Marine boat storage shed.

The region’s first World Invitational Moose Calling Championship offered finalists a chance to show 1,000 or more attentive visitors their best bull and cow moose calls.

Kevin Deschaine drove seven hours from Madawaska with his family to compete for the $1,000 grand prize. Daughters Alayna, 5, and Ciara, 2, jumped up and down when they heard their father won the contest.

He won a competition in Presque Isle, and he breezed through the semi-finals Friday night in Rangeley. The 37-year old Hannaford meat department manager produced smooth, soft, well-paced calls that convinced judges Steve Philbrick, Bill Pierce and Maj. Gregg Sanborn that he deserved first place. Philip Deschaine Jr. said his son has inherited his grandfather, Philip Sr.’s, skills in the wild. However, the elder Deschaine could not be there to see his grandson win.

“He just passed away a year ago, and Kevin learned everything from him,” Deschaine said. “But we know he’s looking down, though, and smiling.”

Matthew Bailey of Farmington also went to the semi-finals, and although he was disappointed not to make the final round, he said he wasn’t competing for fame or fortune. He began calling animals as a child and learned to imitate most bird calls, including owls, ducks, hawks, loons and songbirds.

The Master Maine Guide also taught himself to call foxes, deer and eventually, moose. He has turned a hobby into a part-time job guiding hunters.

“I learned to do moose calls and practiced a lot,” he said.

Since techniques and calls are universal, all competitors put on a show for the audience. They imitated a bull moose in challenge mode, rocking back and forth with antlers or wooden paddles held to the sides of their heads.

Each caller explained his special technique to draw the massive animals. Moose have poor eyesight and may approach an apparent contender aggressively, so successful callers must develop a healthy respect and stay out of harm’s way. Large bulls can stand 7 feet at the shoulder and weigh close to a ton. They can trot and run from 20 to 35 mph.

“Always have an exit strategy,” event organizer and emcee Roger Lambert said. “That’s probably the most important thing to remember.”

When moose roamed the state in larger numbers in the 1800s, hunters rolled a low-tech moose call from a sheet of birch bark. A more modern homemade call can be made by pulling a cotton shoelace through a tight hole in a coffee can wrapped in duct tape. The shoelace is wetted, and the user slides thumb and index fingers tightly down the lace. With practice, an amateur caller can produce a cow moose’s lowing or a bull’s grunts and snorts.

Moose call finalists were judged by an overall score in four categories: bull call, cow call, overall sportsmanship and presentation. Finalists received prize packages with hunting and outdoor equipment.

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