As I continue my preparations for my early fall archery elk hunt, it occurred to me that I have not written about one of the most dangerous animals you may encounter in the wild. While most people venturing into the wilderness are concerned about bears and mountain lions, which you can read my articles by clicking here and here, not many people think about moose, and that can be a big mistake.
Moose inhabit almost all of Alaska and Canada, and have established populations in some western and northeastern states. In Colorado alone, the population is estimated at 2,300, all thanks to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s management of what began with 18 transplants back in 1978, which is pretty amazing! In the past year alone the moose population in Colorado has grown 35%, which creates more opportunities for hunters, but also increases the chances for human encounters with moose. I have even seen an increased number of moose in recent years in places where I never saw them before, and let me tell you, seeing a moose in the wild is quite an experience! While populations are declining in other western states, primarily due to the re-introduction of wolves, there are still populations in Minnesota, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, Washington, and Montana.
Why be concerned about moose when you venture into the wilderness for a day hike, a camping trip, or to hunt and fish? First of all, moose are extremely aggressive animals, they are unpredictable, fearless, and will attack anyone that they feel is trespassing in their space. This is especially true of cows with calves in the spring or bulls during the rut, which is September and October. But because of their unpredictability, they may just decide to leave you alone; you just never know how they will react to your presence.
The danger is real though. A moose charging from the forest in Grand County, Co in 2010 trampled a toddler. Four years before that, former Grand Lake Mayor Louis Heckert was attacked by an 800-pound bull moose as he walked to church. Heckert died of severe head injuries after the moose repeatedly butted him. In several other cases, hikers have been stomped and injured severely, requiring hospitalization. Dogs can incite moose because moose see them as predators. A Colorado woman whose unleashed dog bothered a moose, which chased the dog, soon faced the moose and was trampled. Just last month a similar situation with a woman and her dog happened near Grand Lake, Co, and while the woman wasn’t injured, the cow and her calf were euthanized to prevent further encounters with humans, which is equally sad.
Aside from their aggressiveness, moose are incredibly huge animals. A moose is 5’ – 6.5’ tall at the shoulders, and weigh up to 1,800 pounds. Add to that a large neck, a head larger than that of a horse, and if it is a bull, add on a massive rack that can reach 6’ wide. In addition to their size, moose are surprisingly fast, with the ability to run at 35 miles per hour. A moose will typically attack you with its antlers (or head if it is a cow) and front hooves, which are deadly. That’s a pretty scary mass of wild animal coming at you if an encounter happens.
As with all dangerous animals, there are things you can do to protect yourself. The first rule of thumb that applies to all dangerous animals is awareness. Remember that in the spring calves are born and cows are very protective, and during the rut in the fall the bulls are more aggressive than normal. In addition, moose don’t like to feel cornered in any way, so give them plenty of space; at least 50 feet. Also be aware of the environment; moose love water and marshy areas, but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter them in other places.
One thing that works really well for all wild animals is to make a lot of noise when you travel in the wild. Attaching a small bell to your pack or belt helps alert animals to your presence. The only problem with this is that you may miss opportunities to see wildlife, and obviously this tactic isn’t possible when hunting. Hunting is a whole other story; when I am hunting I am being extra quiet and trying to sneak up on animals, and more than once I have attracted the attention of lions and bears with my calf elk calls.
Like most animals, moose have their own vocabulary to let you know they’re feeling uncomfortable. Look out for raised hackles along the moose’s shoulders, earns pinned back, or a lowered head. A moose moving toward you isn’t a good sign; back away and immediately look for an escape route. Do not use the same tactics you would for a bear or a lion, which is to try to scare the animal away. If the moose charges, run! You will not be able to outrun a moose, but you have an advantage for a split second to run to some sort of safety, like behind a large tree, a boulder, or a tangle of blown down trees. Keep in mind that a moose with a large rack cannot easily run through a thick forest with trees that are close together.
If you are knocked down by the moose, curl into a ball and protect your head with your hands. If you are wearing a back pack, try to keep your back towards the attacking moose. Be as still as you can, and eventually the moose will no longer feel that you are a threat and will leave you alone. But when the moose meanders away, stay still until it is far enough away that you can escape to a place of safety, always remembering that at 35 MPH the moose could be back on top of you in a second.
I hate to make it sound like there are such dangers in the wild, but there are, and they are serious dangers. But if you take some knowledge and preparedness with you, your chances of having an enjoyable outing are far greater than the person who ventures into the wild with no clue. It all begins with basic knowledge and simple awareness, which also gives you the added confidence you need to venture into the wild, fear has no place in the wilderness.