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Moose Safety for Hikers

How to Stay on Bullwinkle's Good Side

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Moose Safety for Hikers
Photo © Lisa Maloney

If you live in bear country, you've probably had one key rule of bear safety drilled into your head: Don't run. Don't run. Don't run.

Well, guess what: That rule is completely different for moose safety. Running from a charging moose won't trigger predatory instincts, and once you're outside a moose's "personal space" -- which varies from animal to animal -- it's probably going to leave you alone. It's not like it could eat you, even if it wanted to.

Moose have a top of speed of 30+ mph, so you're not going to win a footrace with them. If a moose charges you, run for solid cover like a tree you can duck behind. Climbing the tree is a viable option if there's time.

If a moose does charge you and knock you down, curl into a ball and stay still, protecting your head with your hands as best you can. A backpack can offer some protection for your spine. The moose might kick you and stomp you before it decides you're no longer a threat and moves away. Don't get up until the moose leaves you alone and moves off; if it remains close by and agitated, it might interpret your movement as a renewed threat.

Moose Etiquette

If the moose hasn't charged you, you can probably go about your business as long as you observe the proper moose etiquette. Give the moose plenty of space (the Alaska Department of Transportation recommends at least 50 feet; I say give it more if you can). Never, ever get between a mother moose and her calves, so if you suspect there might be little ones around, take the time to figure out where they are before you make your move. If you suspect the presence of little ones but can't spot them, your options are:

  • Go back
  • Wait a while and see if the situation changes
  • Cross your fingers and give momma moose the absolute widest berth you can

Warning Signs

Like most animals, moose have their own vocabulary to let you know they're feeling uncomfortable. Look out for raised hackles along the moose's shoulders, earns pinned back (like a dog's or horse's), or a lowered head. A moose moving toward you isn't a good sign; move away from it and seek cover if you can.

Reasons Moose Might Charge

Moose typically don't want anything to do with you, but they're also notoriously temperamental and unpredictable. Here are are some of the most common reasons a moose might charge you:

  • It's stressed. Hunger and inclement conditions, like deep snow, can stress moose and make them more irritable than usual. Give a stressed moose as much space as you can, and be on the lookout for warning signs that it's zeroed in on you as a threat (or a scapegoat).
  • It's cornered. If a moose feels cornered, it's more likely to charge.
  • It's been harassed. If a moose has been harassed -- by people, dogs, or other wild animals -- it's more likely to see you as a threat (or take its irritation out on you).
  • Dogs bother it. This warrants a special mention because if your off-leash dog goes after a moose, it may well get kicked in reply, or run back to you with the moose in hot pursuit. (Moose can kick out to the side, front, and back.) Many experts warn that moose see dogs as wolves -- which prey on moose -- and may go out of their way to kick a dog, even if it's tied or leashed.
  • Mating season. Bulls are particularly aggressive during the September and October mating season.
  • Calving season. Cows are especially aggressive when protecting calves, which are born in late spring. While a mother with ambulatory calves will usually move away if given the opportunity, they'll stay put to defend calves that can't walk yet, and I've heard that they'll stay with stillborn calves for quite some time as well. (I suspect that may have been what happened with the "Moose of Doom.")

Ways to Keep Safe

Practicing moose safety is as simple as eliminating potential reasons for a charge. Give moose plenty of space (at least 50 feet, preferably more) and take care never to force them into a corner. If you have dogs, keep them on-leash and under control. Be especially wary if the moose seems irritable or if calves are around.

And above all, stay aware of your surroundings. Making some noise lets the moose know you're coming and gives them a chance to avoid conflict in the first place; but you should also be paying close attention with your eyes and ears so you can see or hear them coming, too. If it comes down it a moose is a lot bigger and more dangerous than you are, so let it have the right of way on the trail.

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