One of New Hampshire's most sought-after animals is the moose - a giant mammal somehow able to straddle the line between majestic, and absurd-looking, with big blunt noses and comparatively spindly legs.
But beloved or not, moose aren't always easy to spot. This story from our Only in NH series sets out to answer questions submitted by listeners. This one is from Sean, who asks “Where is the best place to look for moose?”
Producer Taylor Quimby is on the case.
Go to any New Hampshire gift shop, and you’re bound to find moose plastered on key chains, sweatshirts, and shot glasses. But let’s face it - they’re a little more impressive in person.
Kristine Rines is head of the Moose Project at New Hampshire Fish & Game. She sees a lot of moose in her role, but even she agrees it's a big deal to actually spy one.
"Are you kidding? I love to see moose, sit and watch them and see what they do it’s absolutely amazing."
Rines says that if you want to see a moose, you should head up to the Northern-most part of the state, Find a young, growing patch of recently clear cut woods, she says, and wait.
"So the first thing you want to do is see if there’s new moose sign - fresh tracks and droppings - and then you want to be there primarily at dusk and dawn which is when they’re feeding."
If crouching in a clear cut, being eaten by mosquitos, isn’t your idea of a day well spent, you could also head towards the Whites - to Bear Notch Road off the Kancamagus Highway. That’s where Rines tells me you’ll find a moose lick.
"Is a moose lick… is that the name for a place that moose like to hang out?"
"Well we use a lot of road salt on our roads in the wintertime," Rines explains, "And it washes off the roads and accumulates in the dirt and standing water on the sides of the road, and the moose find these areas and use them as an important source of sodium."
Rines says those side of the road salt licks are a pretty good bet, from June through August - but if you really want to up your chances - you’ll probably need to get out of the car.
Keith Robarge is a wildlife guide with Northern New Hampshire Guide Services.
"I always suggest, if you wanna get out and see wild game you just gotta walk," he says.
Robarge has his work cut out for him this year. New Hampshire’s moose hunt starts on October 21st. Fish & Game only issued 51 permits this year - down from 72 in 2016.
"New Hampshire still has I believe a very healthy moose population, it’s just you have to work a lot harder for it," Robarge says. "There’s no more driving up the road and looking off to the side."
Dennis Witcher is another hunting guide. He says he’s mostly given up working with moose clients, in favor of guiding elk and duck hunts in other parts of the country.
Like the others, he says the days of craning out your car window are mostly over.
"You used to drive the roads and see 20 or 30 a day. Now I go in the back woods, climb the mountains. You can see 10 moose a day if you walk 5 to 8 miles a day."
What Keith calls “a healthy population” is officially on the decline. I asked Kristine Rines at Fish & Game whether the hunt has anything to do with that downward trend. She says no, the real culprit is climate.
Warm winters have brought twin threats for moose. Less snow means more ticks, which are especially tough on calves. Less snow also means white tailed deer are ranging further north, and they’ve infected moose with a parasite called brain worm, which is harmless to deer, but fatal to moose.
"Currently all of the best info have is telling us that we’re going to be, eventually, like West Virginia," Rines says, "And moose can’t survive in that sort of climate."
"If the future of New Hampshire moose is very uncertain, what does that say to you that we also have it as part of our identity as a state and as a region?"
"Well I grew up in New Hampshire, and so did my parents, and their parents before them," she says. "The way New Hampshire is going to look is going to be so different. Maple trees aren’t going to be doing well. Our state bird will probably no longer be here. It breaks my heart, but you know…"
For now, though, there are still moose (and maple trees) in New Hampshire. They're in the gift shops, if you’re feeling impatient. But they're in the woods too, if you’re willing to search…and wait.
Do you have a question about New Hampshire or your community? Click here to submit it to our Only in NH project, and we might answer it in a future story.