Moose of the Slash

BY Mark McCollough

In the deep woods of northwestern Maine, it is known as “The Slash.” Maine’s 292-mile border with the province of Quebec is not impressive, just a 40-foot swath cut through the spruce, fir, and cedars. Most power line rights-of-way are wider. About every half mile or so is a waist-high boundary monument in the center of the clearing. Otherwise, there is an ATV track running just inside the Quebec side of the border and miles of du Grand Bois, Maine’s big woods, on the other side.

No Man’s Land

The border is a curious and somewhat mysterious no-man’s-land. From where I stand at the discontinued border crossing at Daquaam, there is no sign of cameras, listening devices, or border patrol (unless they are cleverly disguised). The Nature Conservancy owns this township and the old U.S. Custom’s staff residence. A well-maintained Customs and Border Patrol supply depot is next door. Otherwise, there are a few hunting camps along the last remnants of the Realty Road that once served as the major haul road for Maine trees going to Canadian mills. The high bridge over the St. John River is long collapsed, and only a few intrepid hunters and game wardens wend their way through a maze of logging roads to this remote Maine outpost.

Across the international border the view is drastically different. Chemin du Maine, a well-travelled road, runs to the gate at the border. There are tire marks in the gravel suggesting that a few Canadians cross here illegally from time to time. Several camps and small houses are in view, the outskirts of the village of Daquaam. Sprawling farms and the spires of Catholic churches rise from the summits of the distant Canadian hills.

The old Canadian Customs building is now a hunting camp with a group of partying Quebecois. Cans of Les Trois Mousquetaires beer are scattered across the lawn. Bonjoir. Comment ça va? Voudrais-tu une bière? they inquire. Fortunately, my wildlife intern from the summer was born in France and strikes up an easy conversation.

Moose Blinds

But the most obvious feature of the border is the moose blinds, or caches, as they are called by the Quebecois. We count at least 8 blinds north and 7 blinds to the south in the span of just a half mile. Our new-found friends erected a blind aimed right down the Realty Road into Maine.

Tucked into the Quebec woods, these blinds are here for a single purpose – to entice moose from the Maine woods into Quebec. We asked our friends at the border if these are the only moose blinds. They roared with laughter. Il y a des centaines! There are hundreds! A fact confirmed by Maine Game Warden Mark Hutchinson of Clayton Lake later in our trip. A quick scan of Google Earth shows the Quebec border punctuated with an unending line of these lookout posts.

These are not casual shacks or tree stands. Most are elaborate structures on stilts elevated 15 to 20 feet above the ground. Staircases lead to enclosed, roofed cabins the size of a small shed. Large sliding glass windows surround the blind. Propane tanks fuel heaters and cook stoves. Chimneys from wood stoves exit the roof. Some have sleeping bunks.

Quebec clearly has vastly different hunting regulations. Most blinds are surrounded by cleared “yards” with a smorgasbord of moose delicacies. Many have salt blocks that are specially-shipped from the Midwest in several different “flavors” with micronutrients that moose crave. Nearly everyone baits their blind with barley and other grains. Most peculiar are “Christmas trees,” a vertical post with a dozen foot-long spikes adorned with cabbages. Moose calls, electronic and traditional, echo up and down the boundary come the October moose season.

Most of the blinds are a mere 40-50 yards apart. Some have flagged posts demarking domestic boundaries of another type. “I shoot the moose on this side of the post. You shoot the moose on the other.” The height of the blinds may contribute to some degree of shooting safety, but when a moose sticks its nose from the Maine woods, I suspect there is high-powered mayhem.

Poaching Prevalent

Poaching is prevalent along the border. Maine Wardens play a cat-and-mouse game with the Quebec hunters. The moose does not always expire on the 20-feet of The Slash in Quebec. Warden Hutchinson confirmed that the border is an exasperating area to patrol and enforce the game laws. Access on the Maine side is difficult at best, whereas the Canadians access the border by a myriad of roads and ATV trails. “Deer, bear, and moose all are killed illegally from the blinds. Many expire where they came from – on the Maine side of the international border. We have to physically apprehend the poachers in Maine. The Quebec hunters just have to scamper (or drag their moose with an ATV) across the border where we cannot touch them,” Hutchinson explained. The Maine Warden Service collaborates with U.S. and Canadian Customs and Canadian law enforcement if they believe they can identify the culprits, but apprehensions are few.

How many of “our” moose end up in Canadian freezers? No one knows, but one old estimate put the number at 200 each year. The Maine border spans Quebec hunting zones 2, 3, and 4 where 269, 600, and 4,062 moose were harvested respectively in 2021.

Maine moose biologist Lee Kanter confirmed that there is no estimate of the number of moose killed by Quebec on the international border. MDIFW has radio-tagged moose that regularly move between Quebec and Maine, so he assumes that “Quebec” moose also range into Maine. Lee does not see the concentration of baited stands at the border as a “sink” for the regional moose population. Mortality from winter ticks is currently the greatest driver of moose populations. Nor is poaching a major cause of moose mortality. Of 750 radio-tagged moose, Lee says that only one was a known to be killed illegally. The bottom line…borderline Quebec moose hunters do not influence the number of moose permits allocated each year, but they do keep Maine game wardens busy!

Mark McCollough is a retired wildlife biologist and lives in Hampden, Maine. He can be reached at [email protected]

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