Live, Play, Shoot

Big Moose and Really Bad Decisions

August 25, 2014

For a long time I was convinced that I had some sort of moose curse. After seven or eight years in Colorado I had seen a total of around three moose and those sightings were all lucky and short lived. Despite the enormous amount of time I spend in the outdoors and the rather high number of other large critters I have seen, moose seemed to elude me.

So when a friend posted pictures on Facebook a few weeks ago of a big herd of moose grazing placidly at the base of a lake just an hour from our house, I knew I had to go see them. The following weekend I set my alarm for the ungodly time of 3:30 a.m. and headed for the mountains. My goal was to spend a few hours watching the sunrise and shooting moose and then hoof it up the 13er whose trailhead was just up the road. Early mornings, lots of sweat, and time in the mountains are my favorite form of “me” time.

I rolled up to the lake just as the sun was coming up, wondering if I’d see even a single moose. I figured that, despite being promised that the place was crawling with them, I’d still get unlucky. I thought the curse would live on. I was wrong.

I saw my first moose of the morning as I drove around a corner. It was a young bull moose grazing on willows a couple hundred yards off the road. I pulled over and set up shop next to a guy that was there doing the exact same thing. We exchanged pleasantries but didn’t talk much because it wasn’t even 6 a.m. yet and no one wants to talk before they’ve had their second cup of coffee.

After a while I headed back for my car with plans to move to another location. I was walking up the path, flipping through the pictures in my camera, and not paying a whole lot of attention to what I was doing when I damn near ran head first into the biggest bull moose I had ever seen. Since I already had my camera in my hand I snapped a few shots and then I backed slowly and non-threateningly away while considering whether I needed to change my pants. I have no desire to ever be that close to a bull moose again.

After a few minutes the big guy moseyed out onto the road and then down to the lake where I noticed there was a large group of moose milling around and an even larger group of photographers taking their pictures. I trailed the moose from a safe distance and was shocked at what I saw.

Most people were being respectful and giving these enormous and unpredictable creatures their space. And then there were the assholes who were getting right up in their business, harassing the animals, endangering themselves, and putting the other onlookers in the somewhat precarious position of being near a big herd of ungulates with enormous racks.

Moose are gangly and cuddly and goofy looking but they are also notoriously unpredictable and very, very fast. These big babies can hit speeds of 35 mph which I’m fairly certain is faster than even the quickest photographer. So why, why, did these people insist on being so close? If you are such an important wildlife photographer that you have to be right up the moose’s butt to get it’s picture, you should probably invest in a longer lens. If you are so close to the animals that you’re impacting their movement and damn near causing a stampede, you should probably take several steps back because you’re being a jerk in a lot of ways. This all seems like common sense.

I wasn’t the only one that was shocked. By the end of the morning a large crowd had gathered on the road near the herd and I’d say that about half of the people were watching the moose while the other half were watching the photographers that were watching the moose. Every once in a while you’d hear someone say something to the effect of “I hope they know how fast they can run ….” or “Wow … just … wow.”.

Yes, these particular moose have grown extremely accustomed to having people all up in their business. They’re probably not going to do anything to you but in the event that they’re having a bad day you’d be well advised to stay out of their way. Remember that the most common adjective used to describe the temperament of a moose is unpredictable and you almost certainly don’t want to be on the receiving end of a thousand pounds of hooved fury.

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