Musing, writing

Hippos and Moose

And just what do those two have in common, you may wonder? 

I’m so glad you asked. 

One of the things Peter Grant has mentioned, when the topic of dangerous critters arose, is the sheer wrongheadedness of American Tourists in Africa. “You see,” he says, with a shake of his head, “they have seen the hippos on TV in pink tutus…” 

A hippo in a tutu is still lethal!

I’ve never seen a hippo in the wild, and thanks to Peter’s tales, I know they are to be treated with extreme caution. What I have encountered in the wild, are moose. Which are somewhat less territorial – most of the time – than hippos from the sounds of it. Still, they are massive creatures and when you meet one while out walking, you’ll do best to cautiously beat a retreat while looking as harmless as possible. From various videos of tourists I’ve seen, most of them seem to have the same opinion of moose than they do of the hippo. Anything that looks that silly can’t be dangerous, can it? 

There was a cold winter’s night I met a moose. Well, to be precise, there were two of them. It was one of those early Alaskan nights where the sky is clear, filled with stars, and the rising moon reflecting from the snow makes it almost light as day. I was walking home from my grandfather’s cabin, a short trip of perhaps a mile. The weather was not unduly cold, if I recall correctly it was about forty below zero, and the packed snow crunched pleasantly under my boots while the moonlight glittered on the new-fallen snow heaped alongside the roads. The loose snow was perhaps three feet deep, which is why the moose were also walking on the road. They stepped out of the spruce, trudged through it a few steps, then delicately made their way over the berm onto the road surface. At this point, I had stopped. 

I was contemplating turning around and heading back towards my grandfather’s, as the moose were now between me and my own home. They had ignored me when they came up on the road, there being some distance between us, and while I watched they turned and headed away from me, towards home… and incidentally, in the direction of the deep wilderness that lay past our cabin. There were no other houses between ours and the distant Alaska Range. They crunched along with their peculiarly awkward gait, which if you ever have a chance to walk, is elegantly efficient. I decided, since they weren’t minding me, that I’d follow. Slowly, at a safe distance. 

What I hadn’t thought through, being a youngster and not enough experience, was how the dog would take my action. I had my sister’s border collie with me, you see. Nina had been good about staying with me, but as soon as I started moving in the same direction as the moose, she took this as unspoken permission to do what border collies do best. I watched in dismay as she zipped over the smooth surface of the packed road, a black and white blur. 

Moose are perfectly capable of defending themselves, and will do so, which is why you treat them with respect. Several hundred pounds of muscles tipped in pointed hooves and antlers is nowhere near as silly as their movement may imply. Moose particularly do not like wolves, and don’t discriminate between dog and wolf. As Nina reached them, they left the road and headed off into the woods, barely seeming to hurry at all, long-legged strides carrying them easily away from the brisk dog who meant to put them in their place. Nina headed after them, the snow deeper than she was, bouncing happily in order to see her way. When she’d vanished into the thick spruce, I was convinced I’d never see her again. 

I headed for home. It was too cold to stand still for any length of time, and I certainly wasn’t going to chase into deep snow after the fool dog and risk encountering peevish moose. I’d made it almost all the way home, rounding the corner, when a very happy dog bounded up behind me, her tail plumes flying high. She’d put those moose in their place, all right! And now, it was time to go home and have our dinner. 

She was lucky it was too deep for her to really chase the moose. I was lucky they had decided I was non-threatening. It was and is one of my fondest memories, walking with moose on an Alaska winter’s evening. 

11 thoughts on “Hippos and Moose

  1. Wow! I especially like the “not unduly cold” comment when dealing with forty below zero temperatures.

    My aunt was a teacher in Anchorage for many years. Moose within the city limits were commonplace. She did once tell me the story of some fool local teenager teasing a moose. The moose lashed out with a hoof and decapitated the teenager. Should I ever encounter a moose, I will be sure to treat it with respect.

  2. Two thoughts.

    One, if the only moose that I knew of was Bullwinkle, I might think they’re “safe” animals. 😉

    Two, a man that I knew in the Denver area talked about a Bull Moose that seemed very interested in his horse. As in “is she mating material”. He was armed but fortunately he didn’t have to “send off” the Bull Moose.

    1. Every year I lived in Washington State, starting around mid-September and lasting until after Thanksgiving, there’d be at least two stories a week in the local news about a bull moose either derailing a train or co-opting a cow. The train derailments generally went poorly for both parties.

  3. There’s a fine moose story about a draft-moose, from upper New England – Maine area. The moose shares plowing duties and living arrangements with a farmer’s horse, except for moose mating season, when he goes to seek companionship. Afterwards, he returns to his adopted plow-horse persona.

  4. a buddy of mine was assigned with his team to do a land navigation exercise up on the coast near the edge of the Range. They were to do a covert beach entry, (yes, in Alaska, yes, in winter, what part of “Team” did you miss?) now the land nav exercise of it’s self was not sufficiently “good training” so they were to conduct this 40 mile sweep and surveillance operation against an AK NG MP force. This force was made up mostly of Alaskan natives… If caught, or evidence of their passage was obtained, (beyond unidentifiable footprints) they failed.

    Well two days into the sweep, they happened on a bull Moose. Bull Moose decided that they were somewhere they were not supposed to be, and charged at them. My buddy, who’s a big guy, but not a hunter, figured “I’ll show this oversized Bullwinkle who’s who, and cut the moose down with an MP 5. At least that was his intent. Guess what?
    Not only does a suppressed MP 5 not kill a moose, it does not even dissuade the moose.
    Now they have a FURIOUS moose charging them. At which point my buddy tells his “Pig” gunner to open fire. (Pig is slang for the M-60 machine gun, which fires a 7.62 by 51 nato, or .308, in full auto, called that because it’s a HEAVY pig.)
    Well, the 308 is a good hunting round, and with proper placement WILL kill a moose. They got proper placement, and improper placement, and a lot more placement… in short they made Bullwinkle into mooseburger. Sadly they shot the damn thing up to the point where there wasn’t much edible meat left. That pig basically blood shot nearly the entire body.
    So, no meat, which they were bemoaning because MREs are less than satisfactory, under normal conditions. while doing a forced march in 40 below, carrying full battle rattle, and trying to remain undetected? Yeah, they ain’t cuttin’ it.
    WORSE, remember the “don’t be detected” piece?
    yeah, a machinegunned moose pretty much blows your cover. So, since the ground was WAY too frozen to bury the damn thing, the snow was not a reliable method of burying the damn thing, especially with wolves in the area… They got to drag this moose with them on the sled for the rest of the patrol.
    They then got to explain to the Masterchief exactly why they had a shot to shit, frozen moose carcass with them upon return to base.
    To this day my buddy HATES moose.

  5. Early one misty moisty morning, I was alone in a canoe in a lake in Maine, approaching from a safe distance (I thought) a moose cow standing hip deep in the lake grazing on underwater vegetation, with her calf. I made sure to stay far enough away that I could safely maintain my distance, should she take offense.

    Whereupon she placidly decided to head elsewhere along the margin, and I discovered she could swim at least as fast as I could paddle. Oops.

    Tricky megafauna,,,

  6. After graduating from High School a couple of friends and I went camping/fishing in the Southwest corner of Yellowstone park. We set up camp at an established campground, and went fishing. Returned from drowning worms, cooked the fish and cleaned up after dinner. Sitting around the camp fire, enjoying the evening and swapping lies. Two moose (a cow and a juvenile I think) walked through the middle of camp. They ignored us, and we were smart enough to do nothing, just let them pass through doing their moose thing. Not as exciting or as funny as some of the stories here, but it was my only encounter with moose in the wild and truly memorable, for me at least.

  7. Fun stories (except for the decapitation/darwin award one) here. I had watched moose traipsing through my yard and eating twigs while I wondered why their ears didn’t fall off. Then once while I was retrieving mail, one walked up to me. I froze, literally and figuratively, and waited for the monster to move off. When they are only a few inches away, you finally realize just how BIG they are. Side gaze brought up a close up of its shoulder. I wasn’t a twig so the moose moved on.
    I loved living in North Pole, Alaska.

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