Nice Moose. Look But Don't Touch.
By James H. Hyde
With summer upon us, the appeal to hike and explore the woods can be nearly overwhelming, so off you go. While there are too many potential problems for the scope of this article, I'll focus on a particularly important one. You just might encounter a moose.
The fact is, moose are pretty laid back creatures if it's not rutting season or calving season.
It's a good idea to remember that you're ion their turf, and some animals take exception to that. A bull off the rut or a cow calfless is likely to head away from you most of the time, but they can be approached and may even approach you, especially if they thinks there's food in the offing.
Feeding a moose a BIG no no I'll explain why in a minute.
For the most part, moose are twig and bark eaters. That's what earned them their name in the Algonquin Indian lexicon. They are not carnivores.
During the American Revolution, Hessians (German soldiers of fortune who came here to help the British suppress the rebellion) captured and trained grown bull moose as their battle steeds. Unlike a horse, moose are far taller and have a headful of some pretty prodigious armor that could impale an enemy combatant or his horse with relative ease.
Trouble was, as the the moose initially ran towards the battle, the sounds and sights of war made them reconsider. They spun around and took off into the wilderness with the hapless Hessians trying desperately to stop them or figure out how to get off without breaking their necks.
What To Do If You Encounter a Moose
If you come upon a moose that's close by, the best advice is to immediately shoot it--with your camera--and back away slowly to a safe distance. You won't know how ornery that critter is until it's almost upon you. Leave it alone, regardless of how docile it may appear, and, as I said above, do NOT feed it.
If you do, from that point on, it will associate humans with food. They lose their fear of man, at least to some degree, and expect that every human they encounter has food for the taking.
There have been bizarre and freak stories of bull moose attacking people for apparently no reason. Biologists believe that they've been fed by a human before and that if they're not wined and dined by the next human they see, that can triggers a charge. Then there's the issue alluded to above: the sex of the moose, the time of year and the net results of the rut that arrive in the form of a calf in the spring.
The Rut and Calving Seasons Are Good Times To Steer Clear
During the rutting season (when moose mate), moose testosterone flows freely. Normally solitary creatures, during the rut, moose collect a harem of females, which goes with him wherever he goes.
God help anyone or anything that a bull moose perceives to be competition for his harem. Bulls are extremely dangerous when members of their harems are ready to mate. It's a season that comprises much of the fall and the early winter.
Mating fatigues bulls, and they've been known to bed down under people's decks or lean against structures, exhausted, during or after the rut. But that's not an invitation to go pat the nice moose and give it some food.
To them you're a potential competitor for their harem, something intolerable in moose circles, and they will likely charge you with what energy they have left. In a moment, I'll give you the skinny on what to do to avoid a thrashing that could well cost you your life.
The female of the species, cows, can get very ugly when approached during the calving season, which occurs in the spring and early summer. They're especially dangerous after they've calved or are teaching their young the ways of the wild.
You'd get a little ornery too if you'd just passed a 60-pound calf. "Giving birth," Carol Burnett once said, "is like taking your lower lip and pulling it up over the back of your head." It's the same for a cow. There are no pharmacies in the wild to ease the pain, so it's a good idea to steer clear of areas where moose are likely to be.
When you see a road sign that tells you it's a moose crossing area, it's not there to decorate the highway. It marks a wide game trail of which you need to be aware, both in your car and on foot.
Hitting a moose with a car has taken a good many lives. Because they are so tall, your front end hits them at knee level and that often results in their smashing through your windshield. When you have an animal that weighs hundreds of pounds hurtling at you, you air bag is pretty much useless.
If you're on foot, one potential problem is your coming between a cow and a calf unwittingly, and as with bears, getting between a mom and its baby is like trying cross I-95 during rush hour--a can't miss situation.
Cows are extremely protective of their young, and have been known to take on wolf packs to save them. Like other members of the cervid family, which includes such cousins as deer and elk, moose calfs can lie absolutely still where their mother has left them soon after they've been born. The cow spends an inordinate amount of time licking the newborn so any downwind predators can't pick up the scent.
Because it's well hidden, you could easily bisect the path between a mom and baby, and mom will let you know in no uncertain terms that you're walking on a slippery slope.
Charge Warning Signs, and What To Do If a Moose Does Charge
Muddying the waters even more is that many people, even experienced hikers, don't know the warning signs of an impending attack. Moose have been known to walk up (not run or charge) to a trespasser almost nonchalantly as if they're inviting interaction. Uh, don't be too quick to accept the perceived invitation. That could be a precursor to an attack.
Moose have been known to walk slowly up to a person for one of two reasons: 1. To warn you to get off their turf; 2. Because they expect the person being approached to offer up some food. In either case, it's not approaching to be patted.
The warning signs that a charge is imminent (which are distinct from wandering in your direction) are:
1. The ears are down and back, the same warning signs with many mammals, including horses;
2. The hair on the hump on its back is raised; and
3. It starts licking its lips.
According to wildlife authorities, if you can see it licking its lips, you're way too close anyway.
If a moose charges, unless you're really close to it, it's usually a warning only. Bluffs are common to see what you'll do. If it doesn't get the response it wants—your speedy departure--and does charge you, it kicks out with its forelegs when it gets close enough, and can cause some serious injury doing that alone. More often it will knock you down and, frantically stamping with all four limbs, cut some slashes that will definitely leave scars.
The smartest thing to do is to get something big and hard (a rock or tree, preferably one you can climb) between you and that moose. In the case of a tree, if you can't climb it, move around it away from the charging beast. You're far more agile than it is and much smaller, so you could escape it by continuing to encircle the tree until the moose loses interest.
Because they're not predators, if you run away from it, while you can't outrun it, a moose will probably end its bluff after a relatively short distance. But if one does continue its charge, if big trees and rocks aren't a part of the habitat, you can curl up in a fetal position, protect your head with your hands and arms and remain absolutely motionless. Do not move until the animal is well away from you, or you may trigger a second attack.
Also, if you're wearing a backpack, try to put that between you and the stomping hooves as best you can. The hooves may send you back to LL Bean for a new backpack, but you won't have hoof prints tattooed into your back.
What To Do In the Aftermath of an Attack
After an attack and when the moose has moved on, seek medical attention right away. Injuries do put people into shock, and if you get shocky, you'll be in no shape to assess your own medical condition. If the moose breaks a rib or two, you could suffer a pneumothorax (collapsed lung), which is obviously a very serious problem, and while it may seem harder to breath, if you are in shock, you won't know you've got a collapsed lung until doctors can assess you with a stethoscope and x-rays. So get to the nearest hospital or health center as quickly as possible for a full going-over.
You can read more about hiking and what to do if you encounter a number of woodland creatures in the hiking articles in the Ezine section of newenglandtimes.com. There a good deal of safety information in the articles referenced, and they tell you how to have an enjoyable hike through our incredibly beautiful woods.
TAGS: Moose, bull moose, cow moose, male moose, female moose, moose calf, moose baby, baby moose, cervids.