Colorado Hunters Be Aware of Meandering Moose

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An elk hunter silently walks through the dense lodgepole pine forest and spots a large, dark brown animal. Peering through the rifle scope and noticing the animal doesn't flee, the hunter decides to take a better look through binoculars and discovers the animal is not an elk - it's a moose!

This scene has become increasingly more common in Colorado. "The moose population is expanding and hunters need to identify their animals when hunting big game," said Bob Davies a senior biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW).

Colorado has three primary areas where moose have been established, but moose are solitary individuals that have been known to wander long distances. Many hunters are surprised to learn that moose are not just found by ponds, lakes and willow stands.

Unfortunately, some elk hunters discover it was a moose after they pulled the trigger. According to Davies, hunters have mistakenly killed moose in all types of habitat, even above timberline.

"There is no pattern to where moose are typically found," Davies said. "Hunters have mistakenly killed moose in open meadows, lodgepole pine forests and steep hillside areas where elk are found."

The length of time a hunter is able to watch an animal should provide a clue that it's not an elk. "When an elk sees a hunter in the field, it will usually flee immediately. But that's not the way moose behave. A moose will stay put," said Davies.

An informal DOW survey discovered that out of 17 interviews conducted with people who shot a moose the hunters observed the animal for an average of 3.5 minutes.

"In most cases, the moose just stood there, which can be tempting to a hunter, especially if they think it's an elk," Davies said. "A good rule for hunters to remember is if the animal doesn't run away, it's probably not an elk."

Hunters need to be absolutely sure of their targets. "A good big game hunter always has a pair of binoculars to use," he said. "This will ensure the hunter can properly identify the target."

The DOW's law enforcement officers recognize that hunters will misidentify animals. "If the shooter reports the incident as soon as possible to the local officer, and the situation is deemed accidental, the DOW is willing to take that into consideration," said Bob Thompson, the DOW's assistant chief of law enforcement. The penalties for killing a moose can be in excess of $10,000.

During this year's deer and elk hunting seasons, the DOW is asking hunters to help the state's moose population. "Hunters need to be as ethical and careful as possible when harvesting animals and confirm their targets before taking that shot," said Thompson.

Moose and elk are vastly different in size, color, antler shape and habits. A mature bull moose weighs up to 1,200 pounds - about twice as much as the average bull elk. Moose are dark brown and appear almost black. Elk are light brown - a bull can be almost golden - with a pale yellow rump.

A moose has a very large, long nose and a "bell" under the throat, compared with the relatively narrow snout of an elk. A mature bull moose also has broad, flat antlers, unlike the pointed antlers of an elk. But the antlers on some young bull moose have not flattened out yet, so hunters need to look over the entire animal before pulling the trigger.

The largest member of the deer family, moose have adapted to a variety of habitats. They favor willows along streams and ponds, but "ridge runners" also forage in areas of lodgepole pine, oakbrush, aspen, spruce, fir and even sagebrush - in other words, areas wherever elk can be found.

The first moose re-transplanted into Colorado - 12 from Utah - were placed in the North Park region near Walden in 1978. The next year, another dozen were released in the Illinois River drainage. Some of those moose moved into the Laramie River Valley. By 1991, the North Park population was doing so well that some were moved to the upper Rio Grande drainage near Creede. During the last two years, moose have also been transplanted onto the Grand Mesa in western Colorado.