Emergency Situation: You’re hiking in early fall at Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. As you wander out of a stand of conifers, you notice a very large moose nearby. It stops what it’s doing — eating, probably — and turns toward you. You slowly back away. It walks toward you. You back up even more. It gets closer. Then the moose begins to vocalize loudly. You’re either a potential mate … or dessert. What should you do?
Solution: The good news is that moose are typically nonaggressive, solitary animals, so you won’t be facing a wild moose pack.
The bad news is that when they are aggressive, it’s typically during rutting (mating) season — which just so happens to be in early fall. Moose might also become aggressive when hungry, tired or — stop me if you’ve heard this before — continually harassed by people. (A severe infection called brainworm also affects North American moose and might make them less fearful of humans and therefore more likely to attack.)
Male moose, called bulls, are typically much more aggressive than females, called cows, and often compete with one another for mates in dominance displays, complete with vocalizing, charging and violently smashing antlers. Keep in mind that moose have fairly poor eyesight. Granted, this doesn’t mean you’ll be mistaken for a potential mate, but it does mean you might see the moose before it sees you. (Moose do have acute senses of smell and hearing, however.)
Be on the lookout for the telltale signs of aggression. A disturbed moose preparing to attack might point its ears back (like a dog) and might raise the hair on its back (like a cat). It might also lick its lips repeatedly. Often, a moose will bluff charge, running forward and then stopping, then running forward and stopping again. If you notice any of these behaviors, you should be prepared for an attack.
Despite their enormous bulk — a bull might be 7 feet tall and easily exceed 1,000 pounds — moose can attain impressive speeds: up to 35 miles per hour for short bursts when running. They are also excellent swimmers, so don’t bother diving into a nearby river. What about running through snow to escape? Another bad idea. Snow must be at least 40 inches deep before it can hinder an adult moose’s progress.
The good news is that, for the most part, a moose is lazy. Mostly, it eats. What’s more, despite their mass, moose are herbivores, making them prey, not predators. Experts say that odds are, if you run from a moose, it probably won’t chase you — at least not for long. After running away, make sure a stout tree is between you and the angry moose. Be aware that while a moose might try to attack with its antlers, it more often uses its front hooves to ward off predators, such as wolves or bears. A moose can kick sideways as well as straight ahead, so keep plenty of distance between you and the moose, even once it has given up its charge.
JOSH PIVEN is the co-author of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series. Visit joshuapiven.com.