About a half-mile up the creek from the Mill Creek Trailhead, the Forest Service sign warned of an aggressive bear in the area. I had heard that the bear had been feeding on a dead moose. I decided to take my chances with the aggressive bear. If it had been a warning of an aggressive moose, however, I would have hastily left the area.
When I taught in Jackson, Wyoming,in the 1970's, I once had a student walk in late to my first period class with a note from his mother. I had assumed he was a town kid, as he wore a baseball hat, a satin jacket promoting a local business and Nike shoes. His attire was not exactly the attire I attributed to a ranch kid. Later I found out that the kids in school with the cowboy attire lived out on five- to-10-acre "spreads" west of town.
The note read: "Dear Mr. Archer, Bill is late to class this morning because he was trapped under his truck by a mean, tempered cow moose."
"You're kidding," I said. "Nah," the teenager drawled. "The worst part was when I dashed out to warm up the truck. I forgot to put on my coat. The moose charged, I dove under my truck, and she kept me there for about 20 minutes until my mom came out and shooed it away."
For the rest of the class period in my sophomore English class, harrowing moose stories prevailed. Years later while floating on Rock Creek, I had a bull moose charge into the creek right after we silently floated past him. After some quiet reflection, my clients and I concurred that his stopping point would have been right in the middle of my raft had he decided to charge when we were abreast of him. And then a few years later I experienced my brush-with-death moose story.
If you have seen the movie, The Ghost and the Darkness, about two man-eating lions, you will recall the line when the white hunter says to the young engineer after he has had a close encounter with a lion: "You got knocked down. Now you got to stand up and decide what you're going to do about it." I got knocked down too, but I don't want a rematch!
Unlike the brave engineer, moose will forever intimidate me. Pauline and my sons and I were camped out at the second hogback on Rock Creek during Memorial Day weekend. I was fishing alone on an island with Shadow, my black Labrador. When I came to a spot on the creek that was too deep to wade, I pulled myself up on the grass bank and pushed my way through the dense willow thicket. The creek was still to my left as I entered a small opening. I walked a couple of paces, and suddenly a cow moose struggled up from her bed, scattering dust like a cowpoke's pickup truck on a Saturday night.
I froze. Shadow froze. The moose pawed the ground. I let out a startled whoop and took off running. I saw an opening in the brush and jumped into the creek. I heard the snorts and grunts from the moose directly behind me. At any moment I was expecting a hoof to split me in two. The creek was only a foot deep when I landed. Unlike the protagonist in the adolescent novel Hatchet, the water's depth was not going to help me.
Across the narrow creek I observed a rock cliff with no trees. Down I went on the slippery rocks. I heard a terrible commotion in the brush. I turned around just in time to see the pawing moose chasing my Lab in circles around a thin willow bush. Poor Shadow. Her tail was tucked under her belly, her ears were drooped, and she was running around the willow in a sideways motion with her head turned towards the moose in askance. Shocked silent, she never let out a bark. Finally, the cow charged off, and Shadow meekly joined me at my side in the creek. She had silently stood her ground and saved my life as I ran away.
My sons accused me of story embellishment, but Shadow and I know. The following year, two anglers barely escaped a charging moose in the same area. Their dog stood his ground and was injured. Later that same summer, a cow moose killed a man as he crossed the street in a small town in the state of Washington.
I don't mess with moose.
Article by David Archer