What to do (and what not to do) if you cross paths with a moose.
Picture this: you’re out with your dog on a hike, taking in the sunshine, the fresh air, and the gorgeous views at State Forest State Park in Walden. The park, which calls itself the “moose viewing capital of Colorado,” is home to over 600 moose that live there, year-round. You’re hoping to catch a glimpse or two … but instead, you look up, and just ahead on the trail, you make eye contact with a moose. A moose that could reach six feet in height and weigh as much as 1,000 pounds.
What should you do? Run? Freeze? Offer it a granola bar? (Tip: don’t do that. Not a smart idea in general, but feeding wildlife is also illegal in Colorado.)
This wouldn’t have been a problem about 20 years ago. Until the late 1970s, the occasional moose seen in Colorado was thought to have wandered down from Wyoming and was probably just passing through, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In 1978, Colorado wildlife managers transplanted a dozen moose into the North Park region near Walden and the moose have since thrived—today’s moose population numbers nearly 3,000 animals statewide. But this wildlife success story has also brought more challenges as man and nature work to coexist.
“Each year, more people are attacked by moose than by any other species of wildlife. Moose are one of the most unpredictable and dangerous animals in our state,” said Elissa Slezak, a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in a video about the increased number of moose attacks in recent years.
Moose are most aggressive in the summertime when mothers are protecting their calves (as one man from Nederland had the great misfortune to learn this past summer). They are also aggressive and territorial in the fall, from late September through November, when bull moose are mating, which is often referred to as “the rut.”
When a moose is on the loose, here’s how to save your goose.
Keep your dog close, or leave it at home
If you’re with your dog, keep it on a short leash—for its safety as much as yours. Moose do not like dogs and see them as predators. "Throughout much of the native range for moose, wolves are their primary predators. This means that moose will react to dogs as they would to wolves, and they will go out of their way to charge or stomp a dog that barks at them or chases them," said Slezak, adding, "Dogs charged by moose often run back to their owners – which puts humans at danger of being trampled."
"Moose have poor eyesight, which makes them more dangerous sometimes," says Paul Johnson, founder of outdoor destination guide NorthOutdoors. "If you startle a moose, confuse it or are walking with a dog, the moose cannot discern very well and may just charge at whatever is moving…like you!"
In general, if you spot a moose, keep your distance. Give the moose its space (lots and lots of space) and it will probably leave you alone.
Telltale signs you’re about to be charged
Sam Mazelich, an outdoors and survival expert for Glacier Wellness advises that one of the clearest signs a moose might attack is when the long hairs on its hump—its "hackles"—are raised. If the moose pins its ears back or licks its snout, those are signs you’re too close for comfort, as are stomping and grunting.
Moose also tend to bluff charge. But, if you’re close enough to spot the warning signs, you probably shouldn’t stick around to find out whether or not the moose is bluffing.
Get out of there, indirectly
"If charged by a moose, know that they can run at over 30 mph," advises Johnson. "You will not outrun a moose in the open field. Instead, use agility to your advantage. Zigzag, run behind trees, and try to climb some terrain. The combination of a moose's poor vision and lack of agility means you might be able to duck away from it or blend in with trees or other terrain. But you will not outrun a moose using your straight-line speed, so do not try that."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife agrees, advising that if you are attacked, putting anything between you and the moose—from a tree to a car or a boulder—can help prevent you from being harmed.
If you are attacked
Alaska tour and travel website Alaska.org says that moose often fight with their front hooves. They advise that if the moose hits you, you should play dead and curl up with your hands on your head and neck. They also suggest that your backpack can make a good shield.
Melanie Musson, a freelance writer and avid hiker and camper, has had two close encounters with moose—one of them while canoeing: "A bull moose in the rut had two cows with him. When we paddled by and took pictures, he pinned his ears back and stomped. Even though we were in deep water and the moose was on land, we paddled away quickly because moose are great swimmers."
Musson agrees with the "play dead" advice: "If the moose knocks you down, the best way to protect yourself is to curl up in a ball and not get up until the moose is far away. If you fight back, you’ll be viewed as a continuing threat."
"You’re not going to win a fight with a moose," adds Musson, "So, don’t engage."
Probably the truest words ever spoken.