Fly Fishing Only Fly Fishing Only Fly Fishing Only Fly Fishing Only Fly Fishing Only Fly Fishing Only Fly Fishing Only

Lost and Found – One Moose Skull and Horns

Have you ever gone for a hike and come across a moose horn drop or even a deer antler? If you’re like me the answer is yes – but only once or twice is all the years I’ve been beating around the woods of Maine. How about a skull? Ever seen one of those? If you find one your best bet is to leave it there and get a warden to go back with you to get it. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you do it that way.

Well I had never found a skull, however, on August 20th 2007 that all changed. You see I hiked into a remote unnamed pond (really it hasn’t a name) and what did I see laying on the edge of the pond – that guy over on the left. Yep – big and real as could be there was a skull and horns. What a find.

Now before I go on with this story let me tell you it has little to do with fishing. It was the heat of the summer – fishing was off and I was just trying to find some new ponds to hit. I visited this pond three times and never saw a fish rise but I do have hope and will be going back.

Anyway there is was – a mile back in the woods from my truck through thick brush and over steep terrain. So after sticking it up on a Black Spruce stub and taking some photos I headed out intending to return and carry it out.

Fortunately I posted my plan on the Friday Update page and George read it. George who you might ask – so do I. But I’m jumping ahead. George comes in later.

My next trip up there was on September 2nd and I took an old backpack frame, some rope, bungee straps and went after it. When I got there it had fallen off the Black Spruce and already started to sink into the moss and matted brush of the floating island it was on. I strapped it to the backpack and braced myself for the hike out.

If you look at the flipping pictures just below you’ll see the start of my journey back was a balance beam walk across a deep, black mud pit. Fortunately I didn’t fall and a mile later I was back at the truck.

It wasn’t an easy mile but there is a nice flat rock about halfway of the hike that offered a perch for the backpack and I took advantage of it. I was some glad when I got out of the woods, past the bedding area the local bear was using and to the clear-cut where my truck was parked. I was even happier when the skull was on the front deck of our camp. That was on Sept. 2nd a Sunday and on Monday Linda and I headed home, feeling like the worst of it was over – it wasn’t.

This is where George comes in. Tuesday morning – the 4th (the dates and times of these events do become important) about 8:00am I opened the shop and checked my phone messages. There was one from George (who said he was from the Bangor area) and he told me possession of a skull was against the law and that if I wanted to be legal about it I had better contact IF&W about a permit.

I thought that over and decided I did want to be legal – don’t we all? That’s not to say I always am but I do try. So I called IF&W and asked about getting a permit. That’s when the fun started. Ironic that I called on September 4th because the 4th is when I finally got a permit for the skull – January 4th, 2008 that is. If it wasn’t for the call George made I never would have gotten a permit so – Thank you George.

You see a Moose or Deer antler drop is an OK thing to pick up and carry out of the woods. The animal has “discarded” the drop – so to speak. But a skull is another thing – the animal died to give that up and how it died makes a difference. How long you have the skull in your possession – that makes a difference also. This gets long and involved but I’ll try to just hit the highlights as this is long already.

Acting on George’s advise I did call IF&W. The first thing I was told was that I couldn’t possess a skull. After I explained I already had it I was put in touch with Warden Glidden of the Millinocket area.

Warden Glidden met me at camp that following weekend and informed me that possession of a skull without a permit was a crime and then he confiscated the skull and horns. I was less than happy and to his credit when I made some smart ass remark about how I guess since he was armed if he wanted to take them I couldn’t stop him he took no offense. As a matter of fact he was darn good about it breaking the tension by breaking eye contact – looking at the ground for a second and saying “Well, I’m glad you see it that way.”

We had a good conversation after that and he gave me little hope but told me if I wanted to secure a permit I should call Augusta and contact Col. Santaguida. The reason he held little hope for me ever getting a permit was that by possessing the skull I had committed a crime. He told me they just don’t give permits to people who criminally possess a skull no matter how innocent the acquisition was. And he was right.

But after much research it was proven I didn’t break the law. You see the statute that I would have been in violation of is 12306: Possessing unregistered bear, deer, moose or wild turkey and there are exceptions allowing temporary possession in that chapter. It was just by chance that I came under the exception because I wasn’t even aware of the law but chance works.

You see there are provisions made in that chapter of the law for people on hunting trips. The purpose of the exception is to allow someone who bags game on the first day of a hunt to keep the animal at camp or campsite for a few days rather than making them leave the woods the moment they bag an animal. Specifically the law says:

“A person on a hunting trip in an unorganized township and staying at a temporary place of lodging may keep an unregistered harvested animal at the temporary place of lodging for no more than 7 days or until that person leaves the woods, whichever comes first.”

So since I only had the skull in my possession for 1 day at my camp I was well under the 7 day limit. Here’s where George’s phone call becomes timely. The second part of that exception is that when you do leave camp you have 18 hours to notify a warden or go to a tagging station.

I left camp at 8:00pm on the 3rd and called IF&W at 8:00am on the 4th – well within the time limit allowed. So while I did have possession without a permit I had called to obtain the permit – all by dumb luck – within the allotted time. It was an involved process and took some taking, writing, calling, research and general pain-in-the-butt perseverance but I was cleared of having committed any crime. But they still wouldn’t issue me a permit.

You must be tired of this story by now – I’m getting tired just writing it but bear with me just a bit longer – I’ll wrap this thing up.

The long and short of it is after visiting the site and looking around at the scattered bones the warden couldn’t determine how the animal died. When the state decides that it can’t decide how an animal died the policy is for the state to retain possession of a found skull. They wrote and told me that and I thought it was over because after reading the policy I had to agree that was the only thing they legally could do. I was out in the cold so to speak.

Then during a re-read of the policy I found a section dealing with the disposition of skulls retained by the state. The policy says that skulls can be given to Wardens for demonstrations, given to a school or civic organization for the same purpose or sold to a citizen – eureka.

“Hey, I’m a citizen” said I to the empty room and then I sat down and wrote a letter to the state offering to buy them. The state accepted my offer ($200.00) and sold me the skull and antlers. Believe me I could write another couple of pages explaining how that all came about but I won’t.

To sum it up let me say if you find a skull and want to possess it the first step you should take is away – directly away from the skull – and then you should go find a warden. The first two months of this tale was taken up proving I was innocent of illegal possession of an unregistered animal (a skull is considered an animal for the purpose of this law). The second is be prepared for a drawn out affair – after all it is the state you will be dealing with – and on top of that, well, the wardens do have other things on their minds during hunting season.

But if you do find a skull and do contact a warden you stand a good chance of obtaining a permit. Especially if the cause of the animal’s demise is obvious – and you didn’t kill it. If the cause of death isn’t obvious than the whole process becomes a little dicey. Fortunately, because of the difficulty getting to this pond even though they couldn’t determine the cause of death they were pretty sure I didn’t hike in and kill the animal planning on coming back later for the skull – there are just to many easier spots to do something like that.

All in all the time and effort were worth it for me. I wanted that skull to hang over the door of my camp and I’ve got it. In addition I have a new pond to fish, a tale to tell and I found the largest collection of Pitcher Plants I’ve ever seen. Yes – that funky looking plant you saw a couple of pictures of is a Pitcher Plant – a bug eating, carnivorous plant that feeds on flies. I’m sure that dead rotting moose drew a concentration of flies that might well have led to the abundance of the Pitcher Plants. Funny how stuff like that all ties together.

Be sure and visit our Forum – Comments welcome