Anyone who hunts, hikes, snowmobiles or uses the woods in Maine needs to be prepared for the possibility that you might run into a moose.
One such moment occurred Tuesday night in St. David, when sled dog musher Caleb Hayes and his father, Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes, encountered a moose kicking at some of its dog kennels.
After a lengthy standoff, Caleb Hayes shot the cow moose to protect the men and their dogs. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Game Warden James Gushee later arrived on scene and killed the moose. The men were allowed to register the animal and keep the meat.
While instances of moose attacking people or domestic animals in Maine are infrequent, hunters sometimes are subjected to threatening behavior from an agitated bull during mating season or when coming between a protective cow and its calf. Most moose charges likely are “bluffs” designed only to scare people away.
Lee Kantar, the moose biologist for DIF&W, said the most important thing people can do when encountering one in the wild is to keep their distance.
“While a moose in the trail or road can be an inconvenience, individuals need to respect wildlife and act accordingly,” Kantar said.
Moose spend most of the winter feeding, ruminating (chewing their cud) and bedded down, he said. Later in the winter and during early spring, the animals’ ranges shrink and they spend more time in softwood cover.
Kantar explained that winter conditions play a role in steering moose toward groomed or traveled paths, such as ski or snowmobile trails, where they can more easily walk and avoid deep or crusty snow.
“That means on the trail or road, when encountering moose, people need to stop and give the moose time to get off the trail and out of the way,” Kantar said.
If such consideration is not given, people run the risk of putting the animal into a defensive posture.
“Trying to ‘get around’ a moose while closing the distance or having to get too close to the animal can result in sudden and aggressive behavior,” Kantar said. “That is the nature of a moose or any animal [that] has its ‘bubble’ entered.”
In Tuesday’s situation, Jonathan Hayes reportedly encountered moose tracks on the group’s return home from a sled dog training run. He approached the kennel area on a snowmobile while Caleb Hayes maintained the sled dog team at a distance.
According to Warden Gushee, the elder Hayes said he saw a moose kicking dogs and observed that one of the dog boxes had been damaged and displaced. Caleb Hayes and the dog team then also arrived.
At that point, the report said, the moose charged the team and kicked at the dogs, which led to the men seeking out a firearm.
Kantar said that during encounters with moose, people need to be able to recognize that the animal, when agitated or stressed, may exhibit unpredictable behavior. There are telltale signs that a problem could be brewing.
“Moose may act nonchalant but can quickly change,” Kantar cautioned. “This may start with ears on high alert, ears twitching, eye movement/bulging, hackles raised behind head/neck/shoulder and/or movement towards the person.”
Kantar was asked whether the moose behavior as described in the Aroostook County incident may have had anything to do with any potential exposure of the cow to coyotes.
“We have not documented any level of coyote aggression/predation, etc., with moose,” Kantar said. An adult moose in good health, and even an overwintering calf, can easily put a well-placed hoof into anything it wants to with good effect.”
Dogs also were involved in two of the three other cases uncovered in the Bangor Daily News archives.
In February 2011, an Orland woman, Karen Douglass, was charged by a moose while snowshoeing with her dogs. When she saw the moose and approached her barking dogs to remove them from the equation, the bull ran up and knocked her to the ground.
Neither she nor her dogs were injured in the incident.
In October 1991, a veterinarian sat in his parked car while a cow moose leaped on it and smashed the windshield, according to a report by The Associated Press that appeared in the BDN.
Dr. Peter Caradonna of West Gardiner had stopped along the Interstate 95 off ramp in Richmond to watch a bull moose and two cows grazing in an adjacent meadow. One of the female moose trotted over and jumped on the car.
Neither Caradonna nor the moose was injured.
There also was a case many years ago when sled dog musher Ward Wallin was threatened by a moose while training for the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races. Wallin and his dogs escaped unscathed.