Moose Calf Survival - A High Risk Proposition

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Many newborn moose fail to survive the first year of life, though enough do to sustain Montana’s healthy moose population and to provide opportunities for about 650 moose hunters a year.

It is tough being a moose calf, because nature intends for predators to eat a large proportion of the newborns.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has conducted studies on moose ecology. Moose calf survival rates have been specifically studied in Alaska, where wildlife experts found that 55 percent of newborns in one study area died during the first month. In other studies, 70 to 75 percent of moose calves tracked did not survive the first year.

Black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves are the most common predators.

The bottom line is that only the luckiest and healthiest live to become productive members of the state’s moose population.

A moose calf’s mother can significantly improve the gangly newborn’s odds of surviving.

* A cow moose maintains its health and that of its calf by seeking out succulent forage. Successful pregnancy and nursing requires significant energy.

* A cow moose is quick to spot predators and will aggressively defend a calf.

* A cow moose may produce twins and sometimes triplets, increasing the odds that at least one calf will survive.

To survive and thrive, moose need access to plenty of good habitat, including summer mountain meadows, river valleys, swampy areas and clear cuts, and in winter willow flats or mature coniferous forests.

Moose browse on large saplings, aquatic vegetation, willow, serviceberry, chokecherry and dogwood. In the spring and summer juicy plants, including aquatic plants, make up about 70 percent of a moose’s diet.

After about 11 months, females drive their yearling calves away just before giving birth to the next generation.

At about two and a half years of age, a moose is ready to produce offspring of its own.

Moose are equipped with special skills and qualities. For example, moose generally walk or pace slowly but they are capable of trotting at a speed of up to six miles per hour, and in rare cases at much higher speeds for brief spurts.

They generally don’t jump an obstacle, but check it out and then rear up on hind feet and thrust themselves over the hurdle. To move through deep snow, they may snowshoe by elevating their hooves and spreading their dewclaws. Moose are also powerful swimmers that move through water with a pacing, or fast-walk stroke, and with the whole body submerged.

Moose are talented communicators, though some sounds they make are at low frequencies that are inaudible to the human ear. The bull and cow moose share only a few sounds in common. Some of the colorful calls they use include: squeaks, smacks, seeking calls, distress calls, snorting, gnashing, moaning or wailing, hiccups, and roars.

To hear a moose call and to learn more about moose, go to FWP’s Montana Field Guide.

In spring newborn moose, like bear cubs and deer fawns, are an important sign of renewal and hope against all odds, and a promise of good hunting to come.

*The source for moose facts is "Ecology and Management of the North American Moose" compiled and edited by Albert W. Franzmann and Charles C. Schwartz; technical editor, Richard E. McCabe. Copyright 1997 by the Wildlife Management Institute.


Big game hunters hold Montana’s vigorous moose population in high regard. Each year about 22,000 hunters apply for about 650 moose hunting licenses. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks records show about 86 percent of moose hunters are successful annually. Bull moose make up about 70-75 percent of the harvest and 25-30 percent are antlerless moose of both sexes.

Montana also produces good-sized animals. Since the 1930’s when records were first kept, 141 Montana moose have surpassed the Boone & Crockett minimum score of 155, which is a combination of the width and length of the antler palm and the number of points on the edge of the antlers. Since 2000, 12 moose have been recorded at or above the minimum score of 155. The largest male moose on record in Montana weighed 1,117 pounds.