LEWISTON — For Tina Crowley of Lewiston, last year’s hunt was the hunt of a lifetime. A grandmother and avid hunter, she had her first grand slam, getting a bear, a deer, a turkey and a moose in the same year.

Tina Crowley of Lewiston poses with the moose she shot in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Tina Crowley)

For hunters who seek moose, the biggest hurdle is getting the permit. Moose hunting in Maine is regulated by a lottery system; about 50,000 people apply every year, and 2,000 permits  are awarded to lucky hunters. 

“I was really excited,” Crowley said. “I was like ‘oh my god, I got it!’ My husband’s cousin is a (Maine) Guide … I called him right away, and said ‘Oh my god, I got it!’ They were all excited.”

Though September, when moose hunting begins, is a long way off, 2019’s moose lottery opened Feb. 5. Hunters are already getting excited.

How does the lottery work? Maine residents get one chance in the lottery, while nonresidents can purchase multiple chances. Ten percent of the permits go to nonresidents, while 90 percent are awarded to Maine residents.

The northern two-thirds of Maine is separated into zones, with permits tailored specifically to the moose population of each zone. Each winning permit has a zone and a date, indicating when and where the hunter can hunt.

Troy Conrad, owner of Sunrise Ridge Guide Service in Bingham, makes his living guiding hunts for bears, turkeys and moose. Though he can “sell” his professional tags to those who use his service, he agrees that the permit is a coveted prize. 

“The hardest part about getting a moose is getting a ticket or tag,” Conrad said.  “I tell people that you may get picked the first year, or you may get picked in 20 years. The odds are hard, and that’s where my tag comes in handy. If they don’t want to get into it, they can buy it.”

Conrad said one of his customers has been hunting with him for years, and had been waiting 18 years before he was finally picked in 2015. But sometimes, the wait is short.

Conrad said one of his customers from Pennsylvania had entered for seven years, eventually winning a permit. He bagged a moose that year. After a mandatory waiting period of three years, he entered again and, against the odds, was chosen.

“It’s just like a lottery, you don’t know,” Conrad said. 

Conrad said the randomness of the system results in a fair chance for everyone who applies. “It’s equal. Whatever pops up, pops up. I think it’s fair, but a lot of people don’t think it is,” he said.

Conrad said he doesn’t earn a lot from moose hunting in the fall, mainly because he can only take two hunters with him at a time.

“I don’t make a lot of money off of it, but it’s my favorite hunt. I like moose both ways; I like them alive, and I like to take hunters. I’m on the biologist side. I care about them more than most people,” he said.

What is the biologist’s side of the hunt? Mark Latti, spokesperson for Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said balance is the key. 

According to Latti, Maine has one of the largest moose populations in the lower 48 states, and has had a hunt since 1981.

“Each year, tens of thousands of people apply for the opportunity to hunt moose in Maine, because they see it as the hunt of a lifetime,” Latti said.

Each year, the number of permits issued changes  based on the health of the moose population.

Latti said it’s too early for the Department to know how many permits it can issue for 2019; that number is set after an intensive study into this year’s moose population.

“We have radio collared moose in two different areas in the state,” Latti said. We monitor moose, and if one of them dies, their collar sends out a radio signal.”

Biologists find the moose through a GPS platform and conduct an autopsy to figure out why it died, giving the Department an idea about how many moose are dying and how many moose are born every year.

“Along with investigating how they die, half of the moose that are collared are female, and in the spring we will follow them to see if they produce any calves,” Latti said. Knowing how many moose are born, and how many moose died allows the department to set moose permits at a level that won’t impact the population. 

Hunters can apply on the department’s online registration page. Applications for the 2019 Moose Lottery must be completed by May 15. Lottery  winners will be announced June 8 at Cabela’s in Scarborough.