I’m leaving the past for the present today. Thought I’d talk about Alaska Moose (Alces alces gigas) or Giant Moose. Seriously. That is what they are known as. Alaska Moose, a subspecies of the moose family, are the biggest of them all and range from Alaska to the Western Yukon. On average the males stand 7 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh in at 1,400 lbs. The females average 6 feet at the shoulder and top the scales at 1,100 lbs – sorry girls but fat is where it’s at when you’re a moose. Let me add that when you are being stomped, chased or having a stand off with Alces alces gigas they grow to the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Here’s a video taken of a bull moose on our property. They love that spot after a rain – must be a natural mineral lick there.
There are several seasons here in Alaska beyond the usual fall, winter, spring and summer. For the moose this past winter was the time of “the snow is deep, there’s nothing to eat, I’m hungry and so I’ll kick your butt.” One musher who I am familiar with wrote this on her blog about the encounter we all dread while running dog teams.
I had a stand-off with a bull moose two winters ago. My team came to a t-intersection in the trail and I as usual was in the zone – in other words I was not paying attention. I felt a sudden surge in speed which brought me back to the moment and which always gives me a rush of adrenaline because it signals there is something about to happen. The bull in question looked sort of like this guy.
Sure enough – there he was. A big fella. Probably 1,300 lbs. Ears flattened. Feet pawing at the ground. Hackles raised. But it was the noise he made that almost made me wet my pants. He growled.
The dogs didn’t help of course. It was all I could do to hold the team back. They barked and lunged into their harnesses. And then Bullwinkle charged and I saw all of our lives flash before my eyes.
Normally I run dogs with a pistol on my hip and a shotgun in the sled. Stupid, stupid me had left both at home. I had just about made the decision to run the team straight at the creature in the hope his leap would miss most or all of the team, when he suddenly veered off into the bush. I heard him thrash and crash angrily through the trees but didn’t stick around to see if he would come back. I took my foot off the brake and prayed my leader Pee Pee (don’t laugh!) wouldn’t follow the moose’s course through the trees. He hesitated for a moment but when I called him up he stayed on the trail. Good dog!
This time of the year the bulls aren’t much of a problem. They are more concerned about eating. Come August though, when their rutting season starts, their focus shifts dramatically from food to females. Then they are very, very dangerous.
But now it’s spring and it’s the cow moose, who are either heavy with calves or already have their babies in tow, that make the rutting bulls look like child’s play. And you thought the grizzly bears would get you!
I’ve been chased twice by cow moose. The first time was in my own yard.
There is a space between our home and the dog yard that the moose love to hang out in. There are some good eats there by moose standards and the barking dogs discourage wolves. Shortly after we set up our place here the dogs were barking and going mad. Darrel and I headed to the dog yard to see what the fuss was about and there was mama just to our left. She wasted no time and I was surprised to learn I could run that fast. We have it on video but it is not g-rated and I’m trying to keep this blog relatively clean!
The second time was last year when I was checking out our winter trail. It was about mid-summer and I took Sasha, a little cross bred mutt, and the ATV and went off down the trail. At this small pond Sasha took off but returned a few moments later with a moose on her heels. I slammed the four wheeler into reverse in a desperate attempt to give the cow some space. Sasha executed a flying leap onto the ATV and the moose stopped.
Then the moose ran into the woods a few feet and to my surprise circled around behind us. I pushed Sasha off the four wheeler and drove forward. The moose wheeled round and ran to the front of us. I backed up again. Poor Sasha tried to get back on the ATV but I figured she could duck and dodge much easier than I could and I was afraid she’d fall off and get run over. The moose ran to the back of me again. I had begun to wonder if she was a cutting horse!
At that point I put the machine back in drive, waited until the last second and then hit the throttle hard. The chase was on. Sasha, speedy little thing that she is bolted way ahead. I drove for all I was worth and that moose was breathing down my neck. I was about to run out of trail because it ends at a big swamp. I thought that was where I was going to get stomped to death but the moose just stopped. Whew!
So there we were. Sasha and I. And the moose. About 45 minutes later she turned and trotted off into the woods. The only problem was that Sasha and I had to return on the same trail in order to get home. I put the dog on the back rack, grabbed a dog dish from the milk crate tied on the front rack and banged it hard on metal and yelled like crazy. I wanted that moose to know I was coming back and to give her time to get away. I never did see it but I suspect she had a calf stashed somewhere. We made it home without incident.
The people in this story weren’t quite so lucky.
So no. While I have a healthy respect for bears, I am not afraid of them. Moose however are another story!