stalking moose in the antler cemetery

Moose are usually hunted by people and not the other way around. But sometimes the stalker can turn into the stalkee — as my partner Sam found…

Moose are usually hunted by people and not the other way around.

But sometimes the stalker can turn into the stalkee — as my partner Sam found out last winter when he was trying to sneak up on a couple of moose for some good close-up photographs.

It had seemed like a straightforward plan….

Not far from where we live, moose cows, calves and bulls congregate for a few weeks after the excitement of the rut has worn off.

We stumbled across the place quite literally when I stepped on an old moose antler.

Neat, we thought.

Moments later, we came across a newer antler, then found a third one, and on the way back yet another one.

It’s a veritable antler cemetery, a fair-sized area overgrown with willows, the topography of which has the great advantage of the prevailing winds carrying the scent of the moose out onto the lake.

What better place for rut-wearied moose to rest up and feed?

The moose start to arrive from late October to early November, at first drifting in and out of the area until they seem to become pretty stationary in early winter, when the bulls lose their antlers.

Most of the moose access the antler cemetery via the same corridor.

To us it seems like a prime study area for “moosologists” but so far biologists have at best zipped by here the odd year, and we’ve taken on the pleasant task of checking out the moose migration for our own edification and entertainment.

It baffles us and other bush people that biologists who work on wildlife or fish surveys don’t bother to get in touch with the people who live out there!

Sure, we’re not trained professionals, but by living in the bush you certainly observe wildlife trends, numbers, cycles and aberrations through the years that nobody on a brief excursion could hope to see.

Looking for tracks in the moose corridor that leads to the antler cemetery has become our fall hobby, made all the easier because there usually is already snow on the ground.

We mostly stay away from the moose hang-out to avoid unsettling them, although at this time of the year they seem so focused on feeding and restoring energy that they don’t spook as fast.

Sam figured that tracking down a moose couldn’t be easier than in the snow-covered antler cemetery and was hoping for some good shots of moose in the snow.

Venturing out into the moose corridor, he soon came upon a set of fresh tracks from a cow and calf who were munching their way through the willows, heading into the wind.

Perfect.

They should be easy to follow.

Gingerly treading on the crunchy early winter snow, Sam tried to make his way as quietly as possible over fallen trees, weaving through the willows, eyes glued to the fresh tracks.

Progressing as fast as possible through the snowy forest, a pile of steaming moose droppings eventually alerted him that he was closing in on his quarry.

Breathing hard, he tried to sneak even more quietly up on the moose, when a sudden loud crack and flash of brown fur ahead warned him that he was almost upon the cow and calf.

Attempting to melt into the landscape, Sam heard the two slowly moving off and then carefully adapted his footsteps to their rhythm — keeping still when they stopped and moving as they moved.

The moose, gaining ground on him, started to veer off towards the lake.

Sweating his way down icy rock outcrops, he hoped for a photo opportunity of the moose by the snowy lakeshore — but to his dismay, once he reached the water, the tracks led back up the hill.

Undaunted, he silently fought his way up a steep gully and then through the willows once more, until he suddenly was led by the moose tracks onto his old footsteps.

Wondering about this new development, he kept going for a while until it dawned on him that the moose, most likely hearing him come after them, had looped around behind him and, probably with as much rapt attention as he was paying their tracks, were following his progress through the woods.

So much for the easy plan of trailing a moose for a close-up picture.

As for the moose track count this year: so far, a lot fewer cows and calves than usual: only two pairs, plus four bulls.

And no biologists.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.