Elk Hunting with Moose in the Area As the archery season is upon us, and the rifle seasons not far in the distance, it is very important that hunters are cognizant that there may be moose in the area where they are hunting elk. I don’t know how an archer could possibly mistake a moose for an elk, they look like completely different animals, but it happens. Maybe in the heat of the moment, but as a hunter you need to be able to control that situation.
After being reintroduced to Colorado more than 30 years ago, moose are thriving in many parts of the state. Unfortunately, almost every year hunters inadvertently shoot moose. During the last few years more than a dozen moose have been killed during each season by hunters who thought they were shooting elk. Elk hunters need to be sure to know the difference between these two ungulates. If a hunter without the proper license shoots a moose, the fine can be more than $1,000 and hunting privileges can be lost. And every time a moose is killed illegally, it hampers the management of these animals, and further complicates what wildlife biologists are trying to accomplish with their reintroduction. On a selfish note, that also means the longer it will take me to get a moose tag, which may not happen in my life time.
Moose are the largest members of the deer family and have adapted to a variety of habitats. They favor willows along streams and ponds. But some moose also inhabit lodge pole pine, oak brush, aspen, spruce, fir and even sagebrush; in other words, the same areas where elk live. Moose can be found in almost any high-country habitat area of Colorado. I have seen several moose while hunting elk, and those instances continue to increase as the moose population is thriving.
There’s no excuse for mistaking these animals. They are vastly different in size, color, antler shape and habits. A mature Shiras bull moose weighs 1,200 pounds, about twice as much as the average bull elk, and they look more like a horse than an elk, which is why outfitters tie on bright orange trail tape to various parts of their horses during the hunting seasons. Moose are dark brown and appear almost black. Elk are light brown; a bull elk can be almost golden with a pale yellow rump.
A moose has a very large, long and bulbous nose and a “bell” of fur under the throat. An elk’s snout is much narrower and it has no “bell”. A mature bull moose has broad, flat, palmated antlers, unlike the pointed antlers of an elk. But the antlers on some young bull moose have not flattened out yet, so hunters need to look over the entire animal before pulling the trigger. Moose act very differently than elk when approached by humans. Typically, moose will not flee like elk at the sight of a hunter, so if it sees you and doesn’t run, it’s probably a moose.
Despite these readily apparent differences, every hunting season brings a number of illegal moose kills. Circumstances vary from mistaken identity by hunters to blatant poaching. The common denominator in most accidental kills is that the hunter is only using the rifle scope as an optical aid. Always carry binoculars or a spotting scope to help you properly identify the species you are hunting.
The first 12 moose to reach Colorado were transplanted from Utah by wildlife biologists in the North Park region near Walden in 1978. More animals were transplanted over the years, and now the population statewide is estimated at about 2,400. Considering that the elk herd in Colorado is over 400,000, it is easy to understand how the moose can blend in with the elk, but that is no excuse for harvesting the wrong animal.
As always with hunting, be sure of your target before you release the arrow or pull the trigger. If you do shoot a moose by accident, take care of the animal and the meat, and immediately report it to a Colorado Parks & Wildlife ranger. Your efforts to take care of the animal and your honesty will be taken into consideration when it comes time for possible punishment. The meat will be donated to a food bank, and you may avoid a costly fine if it were truly an accidental shooting. It is always best to be honest and come clean if you make a mistake, don’t try to cover it up. But avoid that situation by being observant and careful about what you are shooting before it comes to that.