In the rugged Bitterroot mountains of northwestern Montana, wood’s wisdom, shared by locals, advises hikers to be more afraid of a moose than a bear. Moose are volatile, unpredictable and aggressive when challenged or protecting a newborn calf. This sound advice rang true when I encountered a “mean momma” moose as I forded the creek in Oregon Gulch, on a blustery day late last spring.
Outfitted with a day-pack, sturdy hiking boots, winter clothing, camera and rain gear, I was ready to brave the elements. My destination, the Oregon Lake trailhead, was a gentle three-mile hike. The first half-mile of the climb was sublime; the towering cedar trees wrapped in shrouds of silver mist. I savored the high mountain air, pungent with the scents of cedar, fir and balsam.
As I started to cross the stream, my attention focused on my feet. I attempted to find firm footing on the slippery, moss covered boulders. I had a solid grip on my walking stick and the hood of my slicker pulled tightly around my face to break the bite of the wind. I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings.
Suddenly a piercing bellow, followed by several loud and aggressive snorts shattered the tranquility. Startled, I looked up and found myself face-to-face with a very large and very angry cow moose. Less than 10 feet away from where I stood, the cow moose had been feeding on the opposite bank of the stream. I interrupted her browsing. The moose was mad.
Violently thrashing her head, the disturbed moose flung long ropes of saliva from her flared nostrils. Petrified, I stood perfectly still, too frightened to attempt a retreat. I kept my head down, avoiding eye contact while the moose sorted out her options. A plaintive bleating, diverted the mother moose’s attention. Her calf was calling. With a final angry glare over her shoulder, the cow bolted up the hillside to protect her baby. I made a hasty exit in the opposite direction. I guess I scared the cow as much as she scared me.
My encounter with the moose could have had a very unhappy ending. Always remember to make plenty of noise when walking in the forests. A startled animal can be a dangerous animal.