Confronted by an Angry Moose? Here’s What to Do.


Moose, the largest member of the deer family, are probably most closely associated in popular culture with the dimwitted but well-meaning cartoon character Bullwinkle.

But that lighthearted image took a darker turn last week after an Iditarod sled dog racer in Alaska made headlines for shooting and killing a moose to protect himself and his dogs, one of which was injured in the encounter. (He was also penalized for poorly gutting the carcass.)

Moose attacks against humans are uncommon, but they do happen in states with large moose populations. In Alaska, for example, as many as 10 are reported each year. And in Colorado, The Colorado Sun reported in October that at least four people were injured in moose encounters in 2023.

Ironclad statistics about fatal moose attacks against humans are unavailable, but wildlife experts agree they are extraordinarily rare as human fatalities involving moose result almost exclusively from vehicle crashes. (One case of a fatal moose attack in Sweden was originally thought to have been a homicide, according to a 2017 Journal of Forensic Sciences report.)

Rick Libbey has been shooting photos and videos of moose in the wild for 45 years. He said displays of aggressive behavior toward humans are abnormal and that about 90 percent of the time, moose are docile, peaceful creatures.

“The problem is the other 10 percent of the time,” he said.

So if you find yourself in one of those 1-in-10 situations, what do you do?

Mr. Libbey said a moose that is feeling threatened or considering charging will present telltale signs of agitation.

If a moose’s ears are up, straight and cupped, all is well. But if its ears are pinned low to the back of its head, “that’s the first sign of ‘I don’t like this,’” Mr. Libbey said.

The hair on the back of the moose’s neck and shoulders might be raised and its eyeballs may bulge.

However, the clearest sign of imminent trouble — in the form of an animal weighing 1,000 pounds or more coming at you — is if a moose’s tongue is out and it’s licking its mouth, he said.

In that case, Mr. Libbey said, it’s no longer a question of if the moose will charge. “It’s going to happen,” he said.

Lee Kantar, a state moose biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, explained that the tongue is a way for a moose to collect scent on its receptors to size up what it’s confronting.

For nearly a decade, Mr. Libbey has split his time in the woods between New England and Alaska, capturing images that he shares on several online platforms under the name MooseMan Nature Photos.

Mr. Libbey and his wife, Libby (yes, she is Libby Libbey), post videos of immense bull moose sparring for supremacy, often during the rut, or mating season, that draw millions of views.

The bulls, or male moose, put their heads down and lock racks as they advance and then retreat and then charge again, the clacking and crashing of their interlocking antlers echoing in the forest like some discordant castanets.

The couple give the lumbering giants names, such as Left Hook, Swagger or Grumpy, based on physical or personality traits.

A cow, a female moose, is just as likely to charge as a bull, especially if she perceives that her offspring are in danger. “Mom is going to go into protect mode,” Mr. Libbey said.

Mr. Libbey said that in his decades of documenting moose, he’s been “bluff charged” a few times. A cow once charged Ms. Libbey, who said she took cover behind a scrawny “Charlie Brown tree,” but it was big enough to work.

If you are in the woods and confronted with an aggressive moose, try to get behind a tree, a rock or some other obstruction. The moose mostly wants you to go away and is unlikely to go after you very far, Mr. Libbey said.

Henry Jones, moose project leader at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, advised against cornering a moose. Make sure it has a way to exit, he said.

If you fall to the ground, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game advises: “Curl up in a ball, protect your head with your hands, and hold still. Don’t move or try to get up until the moose moves a safe distance away or it may renew its attack.”

Though its antlers, at four to five feet wide, can be formidable, its legs pose the greatest danger. A moose will rear up like a horse and slam forward with its powerful front legs, Mr. Libbey said.

How powerful? Mr. Kantar said he’s seen footage of a moose stomping a snowmobile to bits.

If you are hiking with your dog where moose are known to roam, keep your pet on a leash because moose perceive dogs as wolves and, therefore, as threats.

Generally, moose are not fearful, Mr. Libbey said, but added, “Man, a wolf is the one thing that will spook them.”

By late winter, moose have burned through their fat reserves and don’t want to expend more energy wading through deep snow. As moose seek the path of least resistance by gravitating to beaten-down or groomed trails, skiers, snowmobilers and sledders have an improved chance of encountering one, Mr. Kantar said.

Generally things go haywire when a “person is being stupid” and gets too close to a moose, Mr. Kantar said.

“The safest distance,” he said, “is using a pair of binoculars.”

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