I met my first moose as a teenager camping in Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario. It was love at first fright.
We were camped on the edge of a meadow with a trail running off to our left. It must have been six in the morning, cool and misty. I was the first one out of the tent. I stretched and looked down the trail. Maybe thirty feet away was a moose, head lowered, grazing on the grass. I had seen photos of them, but I had no idea they were so HUGE.
This one looked like a dump truck with a rusting, fractured plow. Thinking, I guess, that the antlers were stuck into its ears, rendering it deaf, I yelled “Moose!” and dove off the path behind a tree, not wanting to engage in any close-quarter moose research. (I may have yelled “Gaaah!”)
The moose, of course, vamoosed.
Since then I’ve learned that moose are shy creatures and not much of a danger to humans. These ungainly ungulates usually hang out in boreal forests and bogs; the only time they’re a serious threat is when they venture onto highways. I’ve seen them dozens of times, and they almost always scare me because I’ve seen them on the road, on the side of the road, or running onto the road. It’s usually at dawn or near dusk or after dark when they appear. If you want to see moose, that’s the time to drive. But you need hair-trigger reflexes, nerves of carbon fiber, and luck -mostly luck.
If you are unlucky enough to hit a moose, it is almost always fatal for moose and humans. Moose are six or seven feet tall at the shoulder and weigh a half a ton or more. They have massive torsos supported by skinny legs – like a giant sofa propped on two-by-fours. When you hit them they topple onto the windshield and the front seat. I saw a car recently that hit a moose. The front end and hood were untouched; the moose crushed the front seat passengers to death.
Except for a young moose that showed up in my suburban neighborhood a while back, I haven’t seen many moose lately. (I try not to drive through moose country at dawn or dusk anymore.) So when my wife and I were ripping through northern Minnesota recently, and I caught a glimpse of one, I hit the binders and snapped our camper into reverse.
Sure enough, in the bush about a hundred yards from the road was a moose. It seemed paralyzed with fright or curiosity. I got out the binocs for a closer look.
It was a plywood moose. Convincing but fake. A couple of miles ahead was Karlsbad, Minnesota which bills itself as “The Moose Capital of the North.” If I were younger I would have bought a spray can of red paint and “adjusted” the billboard to read “PLYWOOD Moose Capital!”
Rutting season for moose is late September through October. If you live in moose country (northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, the New England States, all of Canada), drive extra carefully at dusk, through the night and at dawn. Moose are out and about – often on a highway near you. Don’t make it fatally near.