Moose and Thru-Hiking: Your Questions Answered
Recently, an Idaho backpacker was forced to shoot and kill a bull moose that was charging at him and his dog. The man had his camp set up at Harrison Lake backcountry camping area. Officials have ruled the moose shooting self-defense after hearing that the moose charged through the campsite and continued to charge at the man and his dog, even after they were hiding behind a tree for shelter.
Moose encounters are not something you hear as often as bear encounters, but they happen. Is this something thru-hikers and backpackers should be aware of? What are the best practices when you encounter a moose on the trail?
Types of Moose
First thing’s first, the plural of moose is indeed just moose. Not “moosen” nor “meese”. If you’re like me, moose is not the most common topic of conversation so it’s important to know this key information.
There are four species of moose that inhabit North America. There is the eastern moose that inhabits eastern Canada and northeastern United States. The northwestern moose which inhabits central Canada and North Dakota, Minnesota, and northern Michigan, the Shiras moose, which inhabits the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada and finally the Alaskan moose, which inhabits Alaska and northwestern Canada.
Fun Fact: An adult male moose typically weighs between 840 – 1,500 pounds, while a female adult moose weighs between 440 – 790 pounds.
Appalachian Trail hikers might encounter a moose in the northern section of the trail, typically in New Hampshire or Maine. Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers are can have moose encounters in many locations along the trail, including Colorado, the Wind River Range in Wyoming, and Glacier National Park, just to name a few. Moose encounters are less likely along the PCT, though not impossible as hikers approach the Canadian border in Washington.
Are Moose Dangerous?
For the most part, no.
If a moose feels threatened by your presence, it will most likely leave the area to avoid the threat. There are other times where a moose will become aggressive to make you leave the area. A general rule to follow is that if you are causing the moose to change its behavior in any way, you are too close. For best practice, when you encounter a moose while hiking or backpacking, make sure you are able to put a tree in between you and the moose. This will help protect you and make the moose feel less threatened.
There are certain seasons when moose become more aggressive. They include:
- In late spring, early summer when a cow (a mother) feels her very young calf is in danger
- In the fall when a breeding bull (a male) is competitive and agitated
- In the winter when they are hungry and tired from walking in deep snow
So if you are hiking during this time (like near the end of an AT thru-hike in Vermont), you should be aware that male moose are breeding and can be more agitated.
Warning Signs & Good Practices
Like most animals, moose show warning signs when they are becoming agitated and are ready to attack. They may lay their ears back or the hair on the back of their neck and above their hips might stand up. Moose might also smack their lips or throw their heads back like a horse. They may also show the whites of their eyes or urinate.
All of these warning signs can happen very quickly if you are not aware of the moose or do not realize how close you are to it. Moose can also attack without showing any warning signs, so it is best to be fully aware of your surroundings and how close you are to wildlife while hiking.
What to do if a Moose Actually Charges You
When moose charge someone, they will lead with their sharp front hooves instead of their antlers. This is the moose trying to get you to back away from it. If a moose does this, there is no reason to try and outrun it. It will make the animal more agitated and it is pointless because you cannot outrun a moose.
The best thing you can do if a moose charges you is to run and duck behind a large tree. Moose are easily spooked so you need to stay as calm as possible with an angry moose coming towards you. If a moose knocks you to the ground, curl up in a ball. It may continue to run or stomp its hooves. Curling up in a ball will protect your head and body. Persistent attacks from moose are rare and most times they will knock you down and continue on their way because they feel you are not in their space anymore. Continue with caution and try to escape as quietly as possible.
Moose attacks are rarely fatal. In fact, you are much more likely to die in a car crash involving a moose than a moose attack that happens on the trail. These are much more common and due to moose not having reflective eyes at night (like deer), they are much harder to see while driving.
Protecting Yourself and Wildlife
Like many other animals you cross paths with while thru-hiking, moose are not searching for a fight and will most likely leave you alone as long as you stay in your own space. Keeping your eyes, ears, and nose aware of your surroundings will keep you safe. This means hiking with no headphones (or taking one earbud out) so you can hear the wilderness around you. Following safe hiking practices is a sure way to maintain your safety and the safety of animals while on the trail.
Cheers and happy hiking!
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