Moose

Physical Characteristics

While moose appear gangly and awkward, they are truly a magnificent animal adapted to deep snow conditions and bitter cold.  Maine is home to the highest moose population in the lower 48 states and an icon of the Maine Woods.

The scientific (taxonomic) name for moose is Alces alces americana, and describes the eastern or Taiga moose, 1 of 4 subspecies found in North America.  The eastern moose ranges as far east as Nova Scotia and as far west as Northern Ontario where it intergrades with the Northwestern Moose (Alces alces andersoni).  Taiga moose were introduced as well into Newfoundland.   While there is some confusion about the term moose across the globe, in Europe and Asia moose are called elk, the origin of the word moose comes from the Algonquin word “moosu” meaning “bark stripper”.       

Reproductively prime aged female moose (3.5+ years old) average 836 lbs and the average prime age (5.5+) adult bull weighs 1,106 lbs.  The largest bull ever harvested in Maine had a dressed weight of 1,330 lbs and means it would have weighed approximately 1,767 lbs! The total length of a moose is about 9 feet and height measured at the shoulder is about 6 feet. The front hoof width is about 5 inches for a prime bull, just under 4 inches for a cow, and just under 3 inches for a calf. A cow has a brown face and dark body and a bull has a black face. Both cows and bulls have "bells", skin flaps found on the neck. A cow's bell looks more like a tuft of hair, whereas a bull's bell is larger and rounder. Some bulls may have an additional tuft of skin extending below the bell, but it is believed that this extension freezes off. A bull's antlers spread rarely exceeds 65 inches and a spread of 55 inches is considered good. Antlers on cows are extremely rare. Calves may have small buds by late September, yearlings may have spikes or small forks, and palms typically first develop in 2 and 3 year old bulls. Maximum antler development is obtained at age 5 and declines when bulls are in their teens.

Did You Know...

  • A lactating cow has the highest nutritional requirements of any moose and eats over 66 lbs. of browse a day?
  • A cow may leave her calf periodically, but will return to it?
  • A previous injury or poor nutrition can cause deformed antlers?
  • Moose can move each ear independently?
  • Moose can also move each eye independently?
  • To see an object below them, a moose must tilt its head downward or twist its eyeball downward?

Natural History

Habitat

Bulls and cows use somewhat different habitats during the summer, which is a tradeoff between cooler temperatures for bulls and raising calves for cows. Bulls are typically found at higher elevations in mixed and hardwood stands, where food supply is less available, but shading provides cooler temperatures. Cows are found at lower elevations in regenerating stands and adjacent softwoods, because food is more concentrated. This concentrated food source limits the amount of time cows spend feeding, which limits calves vulnerability to predators. Moose winter where more hardwood browse is available, and they often feed in regenerating stands. Mature softwood is used as cover when snow depth exceeds 3 feet.

Food Habits

Moose subsist on browse, the leaves and twigs of woody plants.  Willow, aspen, birch, maple, pin cherry, and mountain ash are important, high quality browse utilized year by moose throughout the year. In addition and since leaves are absent from hardwoods in the winter, balsam fir provides additional value for moose over the long winter.  However, moose can not survive on balsam fir alone, because it has lower nutritional value.  While fire, wind throw, insect damage of trees have been the primary drivers of moose habitat, forest harvesting and subsequent regeneration of forest stands in Maine have been a significant reason for moose abundance. Sodium is also important to moose.  Aquatic plants, such as pondweed and water lily, have higher sodium content than woody vegetation and are an important part of a moose's diet.  Natural salt licks are rare in Maine, so moose are often seen along roads using the salt runoff as an artificial salt lick.

Reproduction

The breeding season (rut) for moose begins in late September and lasts into early October.  Cows may produce their first calf when they are two, and most produce a calf by age 3.  Each May, cows give birth to 1 to 2 calves.  Cows rarely have more than 2 calves and young cows rarely have twins.  A cow's nutritional condition (body weight) determines the number of calves born and when a cow first breeds.  Moose continue to breed into their teens, but may be less productive.  Calves remain with their mother for one year and are driven off shortly before the next calf is born.  Bulls are able to breed as yearlings, but most do not breed until they are older and can compete with other larger bulls.

Survival

Moose die from a variety of causes: legal and illegal harvest, road kills, other accidents (drowning, falls, etc.), predation, disease, starvation, and old age.  Harvest and road kills account for 2,000 to 3,500 moose a year.  Predation of adult moose is low, because predators capable of killing adult moose are rare or absent from Maine. Black bears, which are common in Maine, are potential predators of moose calves. Three parasites can cause mortality in moose in Maine: brain worm, winter tick, and lung worm.  Moose infected with brain worm almost always die, but winter tick and lung worm infestations rarely kill moose.  Winter ticks and lungworms tend to effect calves overwintering for the first time due to small body size more than mature adult moose.

Longevity

The average life expectancy is 8 years for a cow and 7 years for a bull. Moose may live into their late teens, but rarely live past 20.

Historical Management in Maine

Distribution and Population trends

According to writings of early explorers, moose were plentiful in New England during the 1600s.  By the early 1900's, moose populations in Maine had declined to an estimated 2,000.  This decline was mostly attributed to unrestricted hunting.  Clearing forestland for farming and increased incidence of brainworm attributed to increasing deer populations also contributed to their decline.  Deer are host or carriers of brainworm without suffering any ill effects.  During the 1900's, laws protecting moose from excessive hunting, and improving habitat conditions, allowed the moose population to increase. The moose population is currently estimated at 76,000.

Harvest Trends/Statistics

Season Changes

Prior to 1830, there were no laws restricting the harvest of moose. Moose could be hunted statewide, all year, without a bag limit.  In 1830, the first law established an open season of 2 months.  Over the next 14 years, from 1830-1874, the season length ranged from 2 to 8 months.  Moose hunting was not allowed from 1875-1879. In 1880, the moose season was reopened.  A bag limit was first established in 1889, which limited each hunter to one bull.  From 1889-1915, the season length varied from 1 to 3 months.  In 1915, the moose season was closed statewide.  The season was reopened in 1919 for a short 11 day season with a 1 bull bag limit.  The season continued to be closed and reopened periodically from 1920-1936.  When the season was open, only one Bull Moose per hunter could be harvested during a 6 day season.  In 1935, the season was reduced to 3 days.  Then in 1936, the moose season was closed and remained closed until 1980.  During this 54 year season closure, several bills were introduced to reestablish a moose season.  In 1979, a moose hunting bill passed both houses and was signed into law.  This law allowed the MDIFW to issue up to 700 permits to Maine resident hunters in 1980.  A 6 day season was set during the last week of September 1980 and was restricted to an area north of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  A bag limit of one moose of any sex or age was allowed.  A law was then enacted which allowed annual seasons of up to 1,000 permits (with a provision that 10% of the permits could be issued to nonresidents) north of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  In 1982, 1,000 permits were issued.  A bill that expanded the moose hunting district was passed in 1985 and went into effect in 1986.  Since 1982, the number of permits issued and the area open to hunting has increased. The number of permits issued increased to 1,200 in 1994, 1,400 in 1995, and 1,500 in 1996 and subsequent years.  A bill that increased the maximum number of permits to 2,000 in 1998 was passed in 1997, and, in 1999, moose permits were raised to 3,000, with 500 of those earmarked specifically for "antlerless moose".

Legislative Changes and IFW Control of Moose Season, 2000-present

The year 2000 was the last year in which the legislature limited the total number of moose permits each year, the type of permit and season.  Beginning in 2001 the department was granted the responsibility to set seasons, permit types and allocations.  This coincided with the new planning horizon for moose management (2000-2015) and goals and objective for managing moose by Wildlife Management District and Moose Management Area type (see below).

Past Management Goal and Objectives (1980-1999)

During the 1975 and 1980 planning process, a harvest goal was established, but population size and non-consumptive use goals were not established.  An objective of 1,100 to 2,200 moose harvested annually was made to meet the harvest goal.  During the 1985 planning process, goals to maintain moose numbers at 1985 levels (21,150), increase harvest, and maintain viewing opportunity were established.  Population, consumptive, and non-consumptive objectives were developed to meet these goals.  The Population Objective is to maintain moose populations at 1985 levels in all WMU's through 1996. The Consumptive Use Objective is to increase harvest to 1,000-1,400 moose per year or whatever level is needed to maintain populations at 1985 levels. The Non-consumptive Use Objective is to maintain opportunity to view moose and decrease unsuccessful viewing trips by 50%.

Current management Goals and Objectives (2000-2015)

In 2000, a big game working group developed goals and objectives to guide moose management in Maine.  These were more comprehensive than the goals developed in 1985 that essentially directed us to maintain the population at 1985 levels. The 2000 population goals and objectives are specific to each Wildlife Management District (WMD) but are grouped in 3 Management Areas (Figure 1):

  • Recreation Management:  Maintain the population at 60% of K to maximize hunting and, for most of the WMDs, viewing opportunity.
  • Road Safety:  Reduce the population significantly to reduce moose/vehicle accidents.
  • Compromise:  Reduce the population by 1/3 to reduce moose/vehicle accidents and maintain some quality recreational opportunities.

The current moose management goals and objectives for 2000-2015 are:

WMDs 1 & 2

  • Goal: Maximize hunting opportunity while maintaining the availability of mature bulls.
  • Population Objective:  By 2010, manage the moose population at 55-65% of carrying capacity (K) while maintaining 17% mature bulls.

WMDs 4 & 5

  • Goal: Maximize hunting and viewing opportunity while maintaining the availability of mature bulls.
  • Population Objective:  By 2010, manage the moose population at 55-65% of carrying capacity (K) with 17% mature bulls.

WMDs 3 & 6

  • Goal: Balance the public’s concern about moose/vehicle collisions with the public’s desire to hunt moose.
  • Population Objective:  By 2005, reduce the current (2000) moose population by one-third with 17 % mature bulls.

WMD 11

  • Goal: Balance the public’s concern about moose/vehicle collisions with the public’s desire to hunt moose.
  • Population Objective:  By 2005, reduce the current (2000) moose population by one-third while maintaining the sex ratio at 60 males:100 females.

WMDs 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 18, 19, 27 & 28

  • Goal: Balance concerns over moose/vehicle collisions with the desire to provide excellent hunting and viewing opportunity.
  • Population Objective:  By 2010, manage the moose population at 55-65% of carrying capacity (K) with 17% mature bulls. 

WMDs 9 & 14

  • Goal: Maximize hunting and viewing opportunity while maintaining the availability of mature bulls.
  • Population Objective:  By 2010, manage the moose population at 55-65% of carrying capacity (K) with 17% mature bulls.

WMDs 15, 16 & 17

  • Goal: Reduce moose/vehicle collisions.
  • Population Objective:  By 2005, reduce the current (2000) moose population by one-third.

WMDs 20-26

  • Goal: Reduce moose/vehicle collisions.
  • Population Objective:  Reduce the moose population to the extent necessary to minimize the danger to motorists.