Who Goosed the Moose?
Word count: 1,195
Moose attacks are rarely fatal, but moose attack more people than bears and wolves combined. Having seen film clips of these attacks, I give moose a wide berth when I run up on them. The spooky thing about moose is they seem overly interested in human activity. I had one follow me one afternoon, moving when I moved, keeping the same distance, watching me fish till I got the willies and called it a day.
When I come on moose standing in the middle of the road, having heard stories of them charging vehicles that honk their horns or get too close, I stop well back from them and just wait for them to move on. With Utah home to the southernmost herd of moose on the North American continent, sightings of these magnificent animals are common in the back country. Every high-country cowboy I know has a moose story. I’m no exception.
Arriving at my campsite too late to fish, I used the remaining daylight to pitch my tent, dig a fire pit, and gather wood for a fire.
Campfires fascinate me. I believe they are the perfect medium for contemplation, reflection, and innovation. I think some of humanity’s greatest ideas were first formed by somebody staring blankly into a campfire—“You know what? Naked sucks. Let’s start wearing hides tomorrow.”
Late that night, sipping whiskey from a tin cup, staring blankly into the campfire, and not coming up with any great ideas, I heard something moving in my direction through the brush. I banged my cup on a rock, and it took off uttering a high-pitched, bird-like coo. I couldn’t fathom what would make such a sound; however, the noise it made crashing through the brush told me it was big, whatever it was. This was repeated three more times. After not hearing anything for a while and thinking I’d succeeded in discouraging whatever it was, I crawled into my tent and went to sleep.
The next morning, enjoying the warmth of my sleeping bag in the predawn light and thinking about starting a fire and building a pot of coffee, I heard heavy footsteps just outside the tent. I’d seen cattle in the area and assumed it was a cow moving through camp. I rolled over and, peeking through the tent flap, saw a bull moose standing close enough I could have reached out and touched him.
I figured this must be what had tried getting into camp the night before. Being keenly aware that lying prone at the hooves of this massive animal wasn’t the safest place to be, I stayed quiet and watched as he moved to the fire-pit and sniffed my camp chair. He then walked over and stuck his head into the bed of my truck. After sniffing and snorting a few times, he moved off in the direction of the creek. That’s when I remembered to breathe. I waited until I could no longer hear him before crawling out of the tent.
He’d crossed the creek and was standing head and shoulders above the thick willows about a hundred yards away. I was clearly visible to him, but he seemed satisfied with his investigation of me and the camp and appeared to take no further interest, so I coaxed the fire back to life and put on that pot of coffee.
I was leaning against the fender of the truck sipping coffee and watching the moose brows on the tinder willows when I spotted two moose cows heading up the creek in his direction. One of the cows stopped and was watching me, but the other one seemed intent on catching up to the bull. When she was about twenty-five yards from him, kinetic power rippled over his chest and shoulders and he lowered his head and charged. His antlers scythed through the willows with the sound of rushing wind. Clearly, he wasn’t interested in female companionship. My heart went out to him; I’ve been known to show females the gate myself—just not with his style and the absence of paperwork.
The speed and ease with which he knifed through that thick undergrowth was most impressive. I could see I’d be a goner should one of these beasts charge me. There’s really no way a puny human can get away from them in their element. I looked at the single-action .44 mag. on my hip and realized it was a placebo; I’d never clear leather, let alone get a shot off. I still carry heat in the backcountry, but it’s more so I can put myself out of my misery should I get stomped or gored than for protection.
The rebuked cow hightailed it—literally—down the middle of the creek and disappeared around a bend. The bull, satisfied his point had been made, marked the spot and moseyed off in the opposite direction.
I was heading back to the fire for another cup of coffee when a moose calf hopped out of the willows about twenty feet from me. It was leaping and frolicking around and hadn’t noticed me, so I began rapping my tin cup on the bumper of the truck to get its attention and scare it away. That worked. The calf shot back into the undergrowth, but moments later mom showed up and stuck her head out of the willows to give me the hairy eyeball. Deciding I posed no threat, she turned and faded into the willows. One second she was there, the next second she was gone so completely I wondered if she’d been there at all.
With all the moose activity along the creek, I decided to take my time making breakfast and put off fishing until things died down a bit. That afternoon I made my way down the creek to a beaver pond I wanted to fish.
The thick willows lining the creek forced me to wade down the center of the stream, so when I got to the pond, I sat down on the bank to give the fish time to settle and start feeding again before fishing my way back to camp. I was about to start fishing when I noticed a beaver swimming back and forth in front of the dam. Not wanting the beaver to see me and sound the alarm by slapping its tail on the water and spooking the fish, I made myself small and watched it for several minutes before realizing there was a moose cow standing on top of the dam watching me. I’d been so focused on the beaver that I hadn’t noticed it. I slowly backed away until I thought I’d put the proper distance between me and the moose and fished my way back to camp. That morning I spotted six moose in and around camp. I camped there two more days without seeing another moose.
When I thought back on how close I’d been to that bull moose, on how vulnerable I’d been lying at its feet, I wasn’t sure if I’d been lucky or unlucky, cursed or blessed. I finally went with blessed.
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