Kevin and I decided to go on a hike during moose rutting season in September. Now for normal (and smart) people, this would be a bad idea. When young bull moose are ready to start mating in September to mid-October, their antlers become hard and strong, they start thrashing vegetation and strutting around, and then they spar and fight each other to prove their dominance. Moose will try to bluff charge (or actually charge) anything that comes too close. And when they’re in rutting season, that distance is much closer than it’d be the rest of the year.
The reason Kevin and I decided to hike up to Upper Campbell Creek Gorge during rutting season was to see some moose sparring. We’d seen plenty of moose before, but getting a beautiful picture of moose clashing antlers was the dream. Since this hike has easy wildlife viewing opportunities we packed up our camera bag and bear spay then said goodbye to Zuko. Although we try to take Zuko on as many hikes as possible, we didn’t want to endanger him in an area known for its bears, wolves, and aggressive moose… especially in September.
We passed a few moose in the distance on our way to the gorge but none were close enough for a decent picture. We enjoyed the brisk fall air and lovely views along the way, though we could have done without the muddy path. And as we passed a few trails along the way, we saw some signs warning hikers not to pass in that direction because there was a hungry bear eating a dead moose carcass not too far from there.
I don’t want to say we felt nervous during this hike, but we were definitely on high alert with our bear spray handy. Especially since we hit the trail later in the evening when the moose were more likely to be roaming around freely.
And sure enough, we turned a corner and saw a young bull moose roughly 50 yards away. The moose noticed us right away but didn’t seem phased, so he continued eating as Kevin pulled out his camera. We talked in hushed tones and took as many pictures as we could, then dared to take a couple steps closer for a different angle. Normally this type of calm encounter with a moose wouldn’t be dangerous, but as I mentioned before, a moose’s personal space grows a LOT during rutting season. After Kevin took a few more photos, we noticed the moose had stopped eating, tucked his ears back angrily, and had a tuft of hair sticking up on his back. We immediately grabbed our belongings and backed away quickly. However, it was too late… the moose was already feeling the drive to showcase his dominance and charge at us.
We ran down the muddy, uneven trail with our backpacks bouncing uncomfortably on our arms. After a few minutes we looked around and saw no sign of the moose, so Kevin used the time to load his camera back into his pack. But within seconds we noticed the giant brown threat jogging toward us so we kept running.
Most moose stop charging once you leave their space, but this moose was feeling tough and wanted to chase us away for good. Since we were on a steep and muddy hill with no trees to hide behind, we opted for a high point on the trail with thick brush blocking the front half. This allowed us to safely drop our packs and hold our bear spray at both ends of the trail just in case the moose decided to charge at a random direction.
Adrenaline pumping and bear spray in the ready, we waited as the moose charged passed us and slowed to a trot only a few yards away. At this point our only option was to wait until the moose decided to leave because he was blocking our only way down the mountain. After a long 10-20 minutes, the moose finally left us alone and we jogged down the trail in hopes of beating the setting sun and getting safely to our car.
We passed three other moose on our way down to the parking area, but luckily they were female and couldn't care less that we happened to jog near their space.
The moral of this story is not to get yourself caught in a dangerous situation. Moose can be extremely aggressive, and it’s best not to go out looking for them during rutting season. And if you do, please make sure to keep a VERY safe distance and have your bear spray handy.