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Fish And Game Contemplates An End To The Moose Hunt

northeast naturalist via Flickr Creative Commons

New Hampshire Fish and Game is working on a new plan for how many deer, turkey, bear and moose hunters will be allowed to shoot between now and 2025. For moose-hunters in some parts of the state, that number may soon be zero.

Fish and Game is considering regional population thresholds, where if moose herd continues to decline it will call a moratorium on the moose hunt.

When Fish and Game puts forward their game management plan, they hear from folks like Barry Reynolds from Bow, and Brandon O’Brien from Auburn. They came to a recent public hearing in Nashua.

“I know this guy, and I know this guy, and I know all of these guys,” says Reynolds pointing out other hunters he has seen while out in the woods, “And he’s in the woods, you know, any day, every day, I don’t even think he works.”

“Three months out of the year, we’re in the woods everyday,” says O’Brien.

Like almost all New Hampshire hunters – as in 93 percent according to a Fish and Game survey – these guys are mostly interested in deer, and they have opinions on deer management

“Right now you could pretty much go out and shoot a baby deer,” says O’Brien, “It could be a small spike-horn and you could tag it as a buck, so we’re not getting the mature bucks in the population.”

They say, mostly, they want more deer in the woods, but there’s one problem with that.

“Deer and moose aren’t necessarily a compatible species,” says Fish and Game’s moose biologist Kristine Rines.

Credit NH Fish and Game
Fish and Game divides the state into units to manage moose populations. While the Central and Southwestern Units are seeing populations at low levels, the Northern units are still nowhere near their cut-offs. Because of conflicts with moose in the densely populated Southeast, Fish and Game is not proposing a cut-off for that region.

“Stop Hunting… Now”

She says if you’re interested in a healthy moose population there are already too many deer in the Southern part of the state. “Down here – down South, where deer densities are high – we believe brain worm is the primary influence on moose. From the White Mountains north, it’s primarily winter tick.”

Brain worm is a parasite that has evolved with deer and doesn’t seem to make them sick. They pass it in their feces, and it’s taken up by tiny land-snails, which crawl up onto plants, and are eaten by the moose. The moose eventually suffer from blindness, confusion, and death.  

So, in Southern New Hampshire, it’s high deer population that Fish and Game thinks is killing all the moose.

After hearing from a hunter who claimed to have shot over a dozen deer in the previous season, Rines jokes, I don’t know who the gentleman is who said he had shot so many deer, but he’s my new best friend and he’s going to receive a Christmas present.”

Fish and Game has proposed setting a cut-off for each region. While in every region North of the Lakes Moose populations are still well above the minimum threshold, in Central New Hampshire, Rines says the moose population might hit that cut-off this fall. The Southwestern part of the state isn’t far behind, though it could take a few years.

She says with the cut-offs Fish and Game is basically asking “is this where the public would be satisfied, that yeah… stop hunting… now. [That is] basically what we’re proposing to do.”

So Far, No Pushback

The state’s moose population has continued to fall despite the fact that the number of permits given out to shoot a moose has plummeted: from 675 in 2007 to 105 this year.

The situation has got basically everybody throwing up their hands.

“I wish I had a great answer. I really wish I had a great answer,” says Dave Poole is with the New Hampshire Guides Association. Because moose permits are given out in a lottery and some winners need the services of a guide to bag their moose, guides arguably stand to lose the most from a regional moratorium.  

But despite that, Poole says so far he hasn’t heard a peep.

“The impact of hunting, compared to the impact of other things that have caused this decline, is fairly minimal. But certainly it’s something that we can change as human beings. So I’m not aware, of certainly any guides who have given any push-back,”

It’s not at all clear how where the moose population in Southern New Hampshire will bottom out. For instance, Central Massachusetts still has a few hundred moose, despite a large deer herd.

But basically we’re on our way to finding out, like it or not.

“At some point we have to be able to say, ‘well, at this point we’re not going to hunt moose anymore,’ and just sit back and watch what happens,” says Rines.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
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