Here’s another photo from my little run up to Denali. We’d been tooling around on the shuttle bus system during the day, trying to find some wolves, and had no luck. Later in the day we were heading back to our backcountry unit, and my buddy Doug headed for camp – he was done in after a long day and wanted a nap. I wanted a bull moose. So I pointed Doug towards camp and then proceeded to walk all over the backend of Denali looking for a moose. Finally, I found this fellow. He wasn’t the largest bull moose in the park, he’s not fully grown yet, but he was reasonably obliging for my photos – more importantly, I didn’t find any others. I found him down near, ironically enough, Moose Creek. I carefully approached, and took my time getting into position to shoot some photos of him. The light was pretty drab, and I was glad to be shooting a digital camera where I could increase the ISO (similar to film speed), though I really would have enjoyed even a little more shutter speed than what I had to work with.
Anyway, I spent probably 2 hours with this young bull, and he was, generally, very tolerant of my approach. Moose are HUGE animals, and can easily cause a lot of damage to a person, so it’s a wise move to give them some room. The standard line I hear in Alaska is that a bull moose is super dangerous, and a cow moose with a calf is as dangerous, if not more so – which really doesn’t leave many options when it comes to moose – that’s about all there is. So, a wise way of thinking might just be “moose are dangerous.” Though I tend not to think of animals as ‘dangerous’, I prefer to think of them as creatures who can cause me pain if I bother them. And I’m sure a bull moose like this one could easily cause a lot of pain if he tried. I gave him his space.
Everyone who heads into the backcountry in Denali has to sit through a video and short program on how to conduct one’s self in the backcountry. Hikers are briefed on “Leave No Trace” ethics, as well as how to travel through bear country, and how to behave if one does run across a bear. But very little is said about moose, and I think it’s something the park should add in their little talk. They do have posters around that go something like:
“If a grizzly bear approaches, do not run – appear as non-threatening as you can and concede ground to the bear. Do not turn your back and do not run.
If a black bear approaches, do not run – appear as large and intimidating as you can, and try to scare the bear off. Do not turn your back and do not run.
If a moose approaches you, run.”
The reason for the difference, of course, is that bears, being a predator, like a wolf or big cat, have what we call a ‘chase instinct; if something runs from them, they’ll likely chase it, just like your dog might. Moose don’t have this instinct, so even an “aggressive” moose is really a ‘defensive’ moose, and not generally interested in chasing you down, rather they just want you out of their space – so they won’t chase more than a few yards.
Of course, anyone who’s tried to run in moose country knows that’s not as easy as it sounds. Moose love willow, and often live in areas covered with thick willow and alder bushes, stuff that is about impossible to run through. Often the stuff is over your head, and as thick as a Rhododendron thicket – not something you’re likely to make ‘a few yards’ through in a hurry.