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 with Rob Miskosky

Woe to the moose!

A skiff of snow covered the dry, wind-blown edges of the short-cut hay field. Frozen stubble crunched under my feet as I tried to guide myself as soundlessly as possible. It was a difficult task, much like eating cornflakes the sound of my footsteps echoed in my ears. For the lesser ear it may not have been too loud, but to ears that listened carefully within the mixed forest that bordered the field, I may as well have shouted out my presence to them. The forest’s creatures are always listening; it helps to keep them alive.

It was early November and the cool air I filled my lungs with further magnified the sound of my footsteps as I edged up to a large white poplar that marked my chosen destination at the field corner. From here, I would have a good view of the large willow grove that starkly contrasted its deep red colours to that of the surrounding white and yellow-brown countryside. The willow grove is where small birds flit endlessly about and mice scurry through the deep grass that grows under the willow. Coyotes patrol here as well. But this is also the home of the majestic moose, and the purpose of my intrusion.

Using my binoculars I quickly surveyed the setting and couldn't help but realize how beautiful it was. A light blue, cloudless sky only added to its magnificence. I chose my path and with another deep breath of cool November air I started off again, heading to a shallow depression in the field that would help conceal my movement. Not that it would help the noise though, the ground still crackled under my feet.

I could hear the bull long before I saw him. His willow thrashing and grunts were a distinct sound that gave away his presence. The sounds of his foraging had also kept the sounds of my approach away from his large ears—ears capable of turning 180 degrees.

I quickly crouched down and made a plan. The bull still wasn’t visible but I had a pretty good idea of where he was. The mixed forest had given way to a stand of stubby pine trees that stretched out like long fingers several yards into the willows. They were concealing the bull. The stalk would be slow going on the frozen ground but I didn’t have too far to go. In fact, the distance to where I would be able to see him was less than 50 yards.

Moose flies, while not fatal, must cause extreme suffering.

By listening to the bull it was easy to determine when to move. He was eating the willow tops and whenever he raised his head to grab a mouthful he would thrash them with his antlers first. With each thrashing I closed the distance and was soon sitting behind the farthest out pine, still unable to see the bull.

Suddenly, like two sheets of plywood, the big bull’s antlers appeared above the willow tops. They waved back and forth thrashing the willows and then stopped while the bull grabbed another mouthful. Then they disappeared. Within a few seconds they were back up again. I watched the bull repeat this performance from less than 20-yards yet I couldn’t see his body behind the tall willows. I realized my only chance was to time a head shot when he raised it for another mouthful. I slowly shouldered my rifle and watched the bull raise his head twice before I was comfortable with the shot. On the third rise I squeezed the trigger and the big bull vanished, collapsing in a heap within the willows.

Able to grow to more than 1200 pounds, a full grown bull moose is an imposing figure when encountered in its boreal forest home. Generally brown to jet black and standing well over 7-feet tall with massive muscled shoulders and a humped appearance; it is a wonder an adult bull moose shies from anything. Alces alces, however, is generally a very timid creature, seeking cover at the first sign of danger. And for those of us who are lucky enough to draw a tag every few years to hunt this giant of the woods, that is most likely a good thing.

But Mother Nature must have frowned on old slobber-nose, or at least wasn’t very happy with her work. Perhaps it was the shortage of brain, or maybe the poor eyesight or the bell or dewlap that hangs awkwardly from the throat of this largest member of the deer family. In any case, Mother Nature has given the moose an unfair shake by my estimation. Humans, wolves, coyotes, cougars, bears and even wolverines feast on the moose, but it is the smaller creatures that torment the moose, to death in some instances. Ticks have been the plague of many moose, as have several other internal and external infestations or infections.

Moose being attacked by what appears to be moose flies (Haematobosca alcis).

And now our moose have yet another creature to deal with. This year, for the first time, my trail cameras suddenly began picking up moose with ugly red welts and open sores on the back of their legs. The wounds looked nasty, and painful. Curious as to what was causing these wounds, I contacted Provincial Wildlife Disease Specialist, Margo Pybus.

“They’re moose flies,” she stated quite emphatically. “We got our first reports of them just last year, but they are quite common in Alaska.”

Moose flies? Just what our majestic moose needed—after a winter of hosting the dreaded tick, a spring and summer of nasty flies taking chunks out of the back of their legs.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website: “The flies bite the hindquarters of moose just above the hock. Hundreds of flies may attack a moose at one time. The numerous bites produce wet open sores, measuring up to 1 inch in diameter. The wounds are often bloody.”

The website also claims that, “Neither the flies nor the wounds affect the edibility of the meat in any way.”

Has mild weather suddenly allowed the moose fly the opportunity to thrive in Alberta, feasting on our moose?

“That most certainly could have something to do with it,” said Pybus.

Woe to the moose! ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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