With ticks thriving, moose are under siege
The 2012-13 New Hampshire moose hunt lottery takes place Friday, but it arrives at a time when state Fish and Game officials acknowledge moose hunting may be at its lowest ebb since the hunt began 24 years ago.
Anecdotal reports from deer hunters, birders and motorists are accurate, according to those keeping score for the state.
The moose population is down, but the number of ticks that plague them is not. Anemias and blood loss are sickening and killing moose, and compromising the immune systems of those that do survive, according to Kristine Rines,
Rines started as Fish and Game's moose project leader in 1985, predating the hunting lottery, which began in 1988.
Three New Hampshire hunters who won and participated in last year's hunt said it was clear the pickings in the woods were already slim last fall.
“I hunted all day from sunrise to sunset,” Joe Cousins of Goffstown said recently. “I didn't see one.”
Cousins said he combed the woods of New Hampshire's “Unit L,” an area north of Route 101 and south of Route 4. For seven days, he saw no moose. He did spot one set of fresh moose tracks.
Instead of bagging a moose, he said he came close to bagging the whole effort.
“I almost went duck hunting. You can definitely tell,” that the moose numbers are down. “I talked to friends, and they had a tough time hunting, too.”
By the numbers
Rimes recently told University of Tennessee researchers studying moose mortality here that it used to be typical for a moose to carry some 30,000 ticks. She said that number has skyrocketed; as many as 150,000 of the parasites can plague a moose at once.
Steve Weber, chief of the state's Wildlife Division, said the tick explosion is due in part to a couple of mild winters and resulting longer springs.
This week, hunters who have registered for a slot next autumn in one of the state's six management regions find themselves competing for one of only 275 available tickets. That's 400 fewer than the 675 two-season permits available during 2006-07.
New Hampshire wildlife officials are deliberately keeping the hunt low in order to help the stressed moose population, according to Rines and her boss, Weber.
Weber said his division's management approach is to focus on what's best overall for New Hampshire's 4,500 to 5,000 moose.
“We're choosing to manage moose for moose, rather than moose for ticks,” Weber said.
Rines said her project tallies moose counts by asking deer hunters how many moose they've observed per 100 hours of time they've spent in the woods.
“We also keep track of them from the air, using infrared thermal-imaging. We're pretty sure it's working,” she said of the combined methods of estimating the herd size.
University of Tennessee research confirmed it was the effect of ticks that was causing New Hampshire's moose to get sick and/or die, and not “moose sickness.” That's a neurological disorder brought on by a different moose enemy, a parasitic worm that affects the large animal's ability to function normally.
North Country luck?
Perhaps the place to hunt moose is up north. At least it was last fall, according to Henry Dion, now 78, of Berlin, who got a moose in the 470-pound range while hunting in the Success Pond area of his hometown.
“I said, 'The first one we see is going down.' I was lucky. I got one two hours after we started. I'm getting older, and I have a harder time,” said Dion, who said he'd been hunting since 1958, and was happy to get the moose.
“Oh, yes, we used it. My wife makes meat pies,” he said.
Walter Dorman of Pittsburg said he was happy last year when he won a lottery hunting slot in his hometown, his first choice of areas.
He said his family has had a run of success in the moose lottery, with several members having won hunting spots.
He bagged a 610-pound cow on the first day of the 2011 season at a spot off Route 3. But Dorman, 54, said it wasn't as easy as it might sound.
“There weren't so many moose; I had to do a lot of scouting,” he said.
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Bob Hookway may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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