By Phil Brown
I saw my first one many years ago just north of Long Lake. I was driving with my son when we saw a line of cars parked along the shoulder.
“A moose!” my son shouted, just as the enormous beast trotted past our car.
We stopped and joined the other gawkers. Ignoring us, the bull moose ambled across the road and disappeared into the woods. I was struck by the moose’s nonchalance—its regal disdain—around so many humans. It knew who was the king of the forest.
I saw my second moose last year. It had been hanging out near the Saranac River long enough to become a tourist attraction. Once again, I joined a number of other motorists who had parked along a highway for a glimpse of the creature.
This past weekend I had a much different encounter. I was riding my mountain bike on a logging road in the Sable Highlands east of Loon Lake. After climbing a hill, I stopped to take a few notes. Suddenly, a moose emerged from the woods, maybe 50 yards ahead.
The moose stopped and looked straight at me. Now, it’s one thing to stare at a moose; it’s another to have a moose stare at you. This time I felt vulnerable: this was an encounter in the wild, with no car to run to. Moose can be aggressive, especially males during the fall rut or cows protecting calves. In Newcomb some years ago, a moose rammed a moving pickup truck and totaled it.
A bunch of thoughts ran through my head: Gee, that moose is a lot bigger than me. How fast can a moose run? What should I do if it charges?
Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared. By this time, I had been on several outings in the Sable Highlands and knew from the prevalence of scat that the region harbors a large population of moose. This led me to remember advice that once appeared in the Adirondack Explorer: if a moose charges, get behind a tree. The theory is that you can circle the tree faster than the moose, keeping the tree between you.
Unfortunately, most of the trees in this recovering forest were rather skinny, but I noticed a clump of medium-size birches that might do. Indeed, it would have to.
The moose continued staring at me. I didn’t dare raise my arms to take a photo, fearing the gesture would antagonize it. The two of us remained fixed in our tracks, sizing each other up. Ten seconds passed, then 20, then 30. Finally, the moose walked across the road and plunged into the woods. Once it started moving away, I managed to shoot a few seconds of video.
Afterward, I reread the Explorer article. Cedric Alexander, a wildlife biologist from Vermont, seemed skeptical of the hide-behind-a-tree strategy. “It’s not like there’s been any documented research into that,” he told the magazine, “but it’s certainly a technique I would try.”
Another suggestion is to climb a tree, but that also has drawbacks. “People have climbed up trees, and the moose will parade around the tree and keep them pinned,” Alexander said. In time, though, the moose should go away. Given that moose can gallop up to 35 mph, you better be a fast climber.
Often moose make bluff charges. If one comes at you for real and there is no escape, drop to the ground, curl into a ball and protect your head, neck and vital organs from the animal’s kicks and stomps. And good luck.
Adult bulls weigh 900 to 1,400 pounds. Cows grow to 700 to 1,100 pounds. I can’t tell you if the moose I saw was male or female. It lacked antlers, but bulls shed their antlers every winter and regrow them in spring and summer. I can tell you it was the king—or the queen—of the forest.