June 2013, on a Saturday morning I was just chillin’ at home, looking online at some hunting stuff. I came across a headline that read “Maine Moose Lottery Results.” I thought “hey, I need to check and see if I was drawn,” which I do every year and get the same negative results. As I got to the “K’s” I noticed a guy with my same name was drawn. ” That’s kind of crazy, there is another Josh Kelley applying for a Maine moose tag.” I thought. Never in a million years did I think I’d be drawn for a tag like that. Then I happened to look at the city and state of the lucky guy and thought, wow…another Josh Kel….HOLY CRAP! I got a zone 25 either sex moose tag!!!! Maine only allows up to 10% of it’s moose tags to go to non residents. I was absolutely floored that I had been drawn. I did win the lottery, so to speak.
Now, a little information on how the Maine moose tag system works. First and foremost you need to draw a tag, a difficult task for sure. Once you have been drawn for a tag you are able to swap/trade tags with others who have been drawn. There are (or were) 25-30 different zones in the state with Bull-only seasons or Cow-only seasons. The Northern half of Maine is logging country and is full of moose. Historically the success rate for killing a moose is around 85% for the northern zones. The southern zones have lower populations, less hunt-able areas and subsequently lower success rates; around 25%. There are a couple of websites dedicated to swapping moose tags and I will post links at the bottom of the blog.
Well, I had my tag and that was awesome. The bad news was that it was for zone 25. Low harvest rate and smaller parcels of property to hunt are the norm in this southern unit. There are moose for sure, it’s just a much more difficult hunt for a non-resident that had never stepped foot in Maine. I was determined to trade my tag for a northern zone tag. I took to Facebook groups dedicated to trading moose tags and all of the websites for swapping tags. After a couple of weeks of looking and emailing 50 or 60 people and offering up to $1000 for a northern zone tag, I was seriously considering turning the tag back in. I knew this would be my only chance to hunt moose in Maine and if I couldn’t get my hands on a better tag I may as well keep the preference points and try in subsequent years. Then one evening at work I got a phone call. I answered and the woman on the other end said to me “I might just be your guardian angel.” I was pretty pumped at the information she gave me. A guy she had heard about and his family had drawn 3 zone 4 September bull tags and they were thinking about trying to get rid of one!
The phone call was from Andrea Lavoie of Ross Lake Camps outfitters. I asked Andrea if I was able to swap with this guy can I book with her and Don for the moose hunt, but they were booked up. I thanked Andrea and immediately called the gentleman with the moose tags. We came to an agreement and we were ready to swap tags! What an awesome feeling, knowing I was going to be hunting in zone 4, the premier unit in the state. The entire week I looked for outfitters in zone 4 and everyone was either booked or super expensive. I was getting a little worried and thinking I would just have to suck it up and go on my own, which I didn’t want to do since I had no experience in moose hunting or the area I would be hunting. Going at it blind on a once in a lifetime trip like this did not make sense to me. I woke up the next Saturday morning to a voicemail on my phone. It was a message from the guy that traded tags with me telling me he couldn’t make the swap!! I was livid! I immediately called him back and gave him an earful about integrity and being an honest person etc, etc, trying everything to convince him otherwise. The best he could tell me was that he would call me back. The level of self control was at an all time high now. I wanted to freak out and call the guy every name in the book, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I really was not expecting him to call me back. My phone rang later that day while I was at work and after about 30 more minuets of convincing he finally agreed to honor his word, albeit for another $250. I was pissed, but happy to have an agreement on the tag swap.
Now that I had the tag I needed to find an outfitter. I was running out of time and outfitters to call when I tried Ross Lake Camps again. I wanted to thank Andrea again and figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask if they had any spots open up for the moose hunt. Well, they didn’t have any spots open up but Andrea did agreed to guide me herself! I was stoked to say the least! What an awesome opportunity to hunt with one of premier outfitters in northern Maine. At that point they were 100% in filling all of the clients moose tags they had guided.
All of that was out of the way, now I could concentrate on what weapon and gear I was going to take. After much thought, I decided to take my Remington 700 chambered in 338 Federal. This gun was shooting great with 210 grain Nosler Partitions and it just seemed like the perfect combo for something the size of a moose. The weather in Maine during late September is typically cool but can be anywhere from the 30’s-70’s. I was hoping for cold weather as it’s much better for hunting. I packed accordingly; everything from a good base layer to fully insulated coveralls. Good, warm hiking boots and even muck boots were packed. I decided driving would be the most economical way to go. Getting the moose meat and rack back home any other way would just not be cost effective. Four 150 quart coolers were taken along for the meat and cape to come home in and the coolers worked well for storage on the trip to Maine.
The Chevy Tahoe was packed to the brim and ready to roll. My brother showed up around 10am the Saturday morning before the hunt and we got on the road. We had made it to somewhere in New York state and around 4 am we decided to stop for a quick bite and a little nap. An hour later and we were back on the road. The GPS took us the scenic route which was absolutely beautiful, but seemed a bit slower that we thought. The New England country side and small towns were really quaint and awesome to see.
Finally we made it to Maine about noon on Sunday. From Millenockett Maine we hit the North Maine Woods. This is basically the northern half of Maine which consists of logging roads and pristine poplar and pine forest and picturesque streams. Some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen in person. The logging roads are an adventure in themselves. In some spots you can go 50 mph, other spots not even 20. There are some giant pot holes that would swallow your truck if you hit them. From the last town it is recommended that you bring a spare tire and 10 gallons of extra gas. If you have mechanical problems or run out of gas you are kind of up a creek. Cell phone reception can be sketchy at best, so be prepared. We were closing in on camp, about 10 miles out we had a cow moose jump on the road and parallel us for a couple hundred feet then jump straight in front of the Tahoe! That was super close and had my heart rate through the roof! Finally Matt and I made it to camp. Totally exhausted, we ate dinner, met Don, Andrea and the rest of the crew then headed to our cabin for some much needed sleep. 4 am would come early for me.
The 2nd half will be soon to follow!
Here is a link for some awesome coolers. If you are moose or elk hunting a couple of big coolers are exactly what you need. I will probably post another blog with instructions on how I load my cooler full of meat, there is more to it that dumping ice and meat in. These YETI coolers are the best money can buy! By clicking on this link and purchasing items (even items without links, any item on Amazon) you are helping to fund this website and blog. I totally appreciate it guys and gals!
Another really cool item is the Primos Mono Pod. They are worth their weight in gold! I even use these out of my deer stand if I don’t have a shooting rail and if you are hiking in questionable terrain it doubles as a great walking stick.
This is the website for swapping/ trading moose tags. But honestly Facebook is probably better as it’s free and there are a ton of people that try and trade tags on the Maine Moose Hunting group. Although when you are trying to trade a less than desirable tag it does not hurt to be on both.