I’ve finally discovered a method of moose herding that really works. Previous efforts of waving my arms, shouting, banging against a bucket and stomping my feet have not proven very effective at dislodging moose roadblocks. That kind of display seems to only root a moose even more to the spot and makes me feel like a fool. Normally, I always grant wildlife the right of way and take a detour, but once in a while that’s just not an option.
Lured by the glorious sunshine and blue sky, Sam and I had taken the dogs out for a nice long walk through the woods and down to the river. Blurred wolf tracks dotted the packed trail that even ancient Leshi was able to shuffle along on. No more off-roading for the old dog, since she is prone to lose her balance and get stuck in deeper snow. But with not only wolf tracks but also a big pee spot right on the trail and eventually a cluster of moose nuggets, what more can a dog ask for?
It was when we followed our trail down to the river that we noticed movement on the ice: a cow and calf ahead of us. We called the dogs to heel and kept on walking, happy to see the two moose and assuming that they would continue on and cross the river. At just about the same time that we had formed that assumption, the cow stopped and began sniffing the snow. And so they stood, even after they noticed us.
Sam thought they might be drinking the overflow water that was beside the trail. Surely, once they drank their fill, they would move on? After all, moose don’t seem to like standing around out in the open, far from any cover. We began to walk more slowly and talk more loudly. The moose stopped nosing the snow, lifted their heads up and stared at us.
“Yoo-hoo! Hi moose, why don’t you keep going?” Unfortunately, they were right in front of us, right on the trail. Because of the old dog and the surrounding overflow, we couldn’t make a detour. Going back would have been too far for Leshi. It was forward or bust.
“That must be ‘our’ moose,” figured Sam, “maybe that’s why they don’t move.”‘Our moose,’ meaning the cow and calf that had spent early winter around the cabin, used to us leaving them in peace. I didn’t think this was good situation, walking straight at the two animals. Wouldn’t they see this as assertive or aggressive? I worried how the cow might react - considering the calf at her side.
“Maybe you and the dogs wait here, and I go ahead and see if I can nudge them off the trail,” said Sam. I didn’t like the idea one bit (headlines like “Wilderness columnist’s husband trampled by moose” immediately came to mind), but couldn’t think of anything better. While Sam walked ever closer to the cow and calf, doing the useless hollering and arm-waving, I desperately racked my brain. If I were a moose, what would make me run?
Suddenly, I had it. I crouched down with the dogs and took a deep breath, then tipped back my head and began to howl. The dogs nudged me excitedly, started whining, and as I was into my second soulful howl, they joined me in a stirring chorus. Sam had stopped in his tracks while the two moose eyed me and the dogs nervously. The cow’s ears began twitching and her head moved from side to side as if to check whether the way was clear.
I huddled down even lower and made my pitch rise higher, wilder, accompanied by the bark-howls of the dogs. After 30 seconds, the cow could stand it no longer. She broke away to the side and the two of them trotted to shore in the funny, high-legged run of moose. Relieved, I stopped our chorus and stood up, aware of the numerous backward glances the cow was throwing over her shoulder at me.
I’m not sure if I’ve put a permanent dent into our relationship. The next evening she and her calf showed up at the chicken coop right at feeding time, as they used to earlier in the winter. Only this time, I got the cold shoulder from the two. No more hanging around and ears perked with interest. Without so much as a glance at me, they walked straight by to a secluded willow thicket.
“Sorry,” I called to their backsides. “But we had to get by you guys somehow.” Their only response was the cracking of branches, leaving me feeling foolish yet again - but a tiny bit wiser.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.