PARK CITY, Utah. – Spring is attempting to be sprung. And locals know that this season brings moose. The humongous, quiet beasts can be charming – at a distance. But they can be surprisingly fast and determined if they perceive threat, particularly where their offspring are concerned. So for those who haven’t heard it yet, no: you may not pet the moose.
Here is how to keep safe and keep moose safe while cohabitating with these giants.
The golden rule of wildlife applies here: if you don’t bother or threaten them, they most likely will not attack or come after you, which is also true of bobcats and mountain lions.
Covy Jones, big game coordinator for Utah’s Department of Wildlife (DWR), has interacted with hundreds of moose. “Usually, if you just leave them alone, they’re going to go on about because there’s no reason for them to expend energy to attack you unless you’re doing something that threatens them,” Jones said.
In Utah, moose are most closely related to the much smaller mule deer. Moose are crepuscular animals (like deer), meaning they are most active during twilight hours. Their diet consists mainly of woody boughs, shrubs, some grass, shrubs, and wildflowers. Jones said moose’s favorite food is mahogany.
“They don’t do well in heat. They need water; it’s the way they thermoregulate,” said Jones. “[You’ll] see them often around willowy bottoms, along river corridors, and areas where they can stay cool.” This is why moose are often found on the beloved shaded hiking and biking trails around town.
Moose tend to be solitary animals apart from breeding season (the rut) in September and October, and in May and June when cows (females) birth their calves. Calves stay with their mothers for about a year, sometimes even until the next rut and birth of new calves.
Like humans and other wildlife, the mothers are very territorial and protective of their young. “The cows are the most territorial,” said Jones. “I’m not saying bulls (males) aren’t aggressive because they can be very aggressive, especially during the breeding season. But cows are more so, especially when they have a calf.”
The average bull weighs around 1,000 pounds and can reach six feet tall. The average cow weighs about 800 pounds. Park City is moose habitats, people often run into moose during daily activities. Occasionally some attempt to feed moose, which is dangerous for both humans and animals alike.
It’s essential to know how to navigate a moose encounter.
If the animal is not paying any attention, just go around it on trails without getting too close. If it notices you and pins its ears back or the fur on its neck raises, retreat slowly, or if too close to do so, get behind a tree or any barrier available. Moose are near-sighted and have bad vision, so it can be easy to visually evade them.
Be mindful of dogs, especially those prone to barking, and keep them on-leash when hiking. “They’ll stomp a dog into the ground, they’ll kill a dog. That’s known,” Jones said.
“They’re not going to run through like a tree to get to you,” Jones said. “They would have to run around, so keep something between you and them. Keep your distance and watch their ears. [Moose] behave a lot like horses in that you can watch the ears and tell what they’re going to do. If a cow ever pins her ears, she’s going to stomp into the ground. [Don’t] get too close or go up and try to take a photo. Just don’t harass them. They just want to do their thing, and they’ll let you do your thing.”
As many Parkites hike, trail run, mountain bike, and are generally outdoors often, it’s almost inevitable to have a moose encounter. It’s actually a local rite of passage.
If there are moose on a trail or in a neighborhood, there is no need to call DWR unless an injury occurs or a dangerous situation arises.
“If there are questions about how to interact or what to do with animals,” Jones said. “Or ‘I have this animal in the yard. I’m not sure what to do,’ that’s a perfect time for us to provide some direction, information.”