Home » Asides » Aside: My first moose encounter on Isle Royale, times two!

Aside: My first moose encounter on Isle Royale, times two!

My first Isle Royale moose


Isle Royale‘s moose are legendary. However, during the past eight days on the island, there has not been much sign of any except some old antlers, a few tracks and some piles of scat. By the morning of the ninth day, I am starting to lose hope that I will ever see one in the flesh on this Isle Royale trip.

I leave Feldtmann Lake campground in the early morning of the ninth day, heading for Rainbow Cove, where three moose were sighted the previous night. Hopefully this can increase my odds of seeing the elusive herbivores.

Can you imagine my surprise, when I am about half way to Rainbow Cove, I catch sight of a moose standing amongst the tall grass? And it is looking right at me!

What a beautiful sight. The sun is still rising from the horizon, its golden rays just hitting the white spruce treetops behind the large, dark herbivore. The moose stares in my direction, occasionally holding up its massive snout, apparently trying to catch a whiff of the potpourri that is my filthy hiking clothes. A few times its head twists to look behind it, but I see nothing interesting there except more spruce trees.

Feeling a little exposed standing in an open clearing, I walk slowly forward a short ways on the trail toward Rainbow Cove. I stop when a perfect spot from which to observe the moose through a window of spruce boughs presents itself. Hopefully from this natural blind, the probability of spooking the beast would be greatly reduced.

This proves to be a fairly naïve strategy on my part. The moose continues to watch me, or at least look in my direction, as their eyesight is purportedly poor. Occasionally, it lowers its massive head and nibbles at some ground dwelling vegetation, although the half-heartedly way it goes about this gives me the impression it may doing so for appearances sake only.

When the moose moves farther out into the clearing, I am overjoyed to see a small calf right behind her. Now it is clear why the cow was acting so apprehensive about my presence. The calf is about half her height, and a much lighter shade of brown. It is cute in its own way, or at least as cute as a large-snouted herbivore calf can get.

They both continue to move away from me, alternating between eating and just observing their surroundings. The cow continues to spend the majority of the time looking in my direction, and consequentially my heart rate races and my blood pressure rises.

Moose cow and calf

My excitement turns to apprehension when the cow turns and starts slowly walking in my direction. Her eyes focus right at me, while slowly, but surely, moving closer and closer. Finally, deciding retreat is the better part of valor, I move back toward Feldtmann Lake, avoiding any chance of being trapped with Lake Superior at my back on Rainbow Cove if the situation gets out of hand.

I move slowly, but steadily down the trail, constantly looking behind me to make sure the moose does not start crashing through the scattered spruces after me. After moving down the trail for a while, I stand, wait and listen for any indication of pursuit. I hear none.

Several minutes pass and still no sign of anything. Maybe they moved on. Slowly, I creep back toward Rainbow Cove. When I walk into a clearing with few trees along the trail, I spot the cow and the calf standing right in the middle of the trail ahead of me, blocking any further progress toward Rainbow Cove.

Both moose are holding their heads high in the air now, looking right in my direction; their ears and snouts illuminated by the morning sun streaming right over the low trees surrounding the trail. The Mexican standoff begins, with me watching them, and them watching me. Neither of us seem inclined to give way to the other, when in reality, I am about to bolt back to Feldtmann Lake and hide in the toilet for a few hours. Maybe that is exactly what they are thinking too.

Ready or not, here I come

Then it happens. The moose start sauntering along the trail in my direction. Although my fight-or-flight meter is nearly pegged on flight, a brilliant idea dawns on me, maybe the moose just want to use the trail. Since they are considerably larger, heavier and probably smellier than I am, I figure I should yield right-of-way. Moreover, this is their home, while I am just a visitor.

So, I head off the trail to the north until I am standing in the middle of a small, grassy clearing. Then to my surprise, the two moose leave the trail and start heading in my direction, again. How am I going to lose them? What if they follow me for the rest of my trip? Will I be stuck with them forever? Where am I going to hide them in my small car when trying to cross the Canadian border on my return back to central New York?

Usually, I am a cool cucumber in situations like this. Heck, when trapped in the Five Ponds Wilderness after the 1995 microburst blowdown, my immediate concerns where about filtering water and checking on the condition of the lean-tos in the area. Nevertheless, the moose’s’ pursuit is really starting to make me think they have it out for me. Have they been talking to the red squirrels?

We are watching you!

Making a last ditch effort to evade these moose, I remember the orientation back at Rock Harbor, and move all the way around a large open grown spruce tree, then around a very large, downed mature spruce tree, before returning to the trail. On the trail, I stop, and wait. For nearly five minutes before once again start moving toward Rainbow Cove. Let us see exactly how good the moose’s memory is now.

By the time I start moving back into the clearing where the previous standoff occurred, the moose have moved off back to where I originally saw the cow upon my arrival to the area. This time I move swiftly along the trail, continuing toward Rainbow Cove. As I pass them, my eyes are fixed on them, and they are fixated on watching me. I do not give them the opportunity to move in my direction and I just keep moving as quickly as possible.

As I start moving through the shrubby area just before reaching the Lake Superior shoreline, I turn back and there is no sign of any moose. The sigh of relief is audible. I can relax and stop worrying about feeding these two large beasts throughout the rest of my trip, or obtaining passports for them.

An illuminating profile

Finally, my first Isle Royale moose encounter. And this was a buy one, get one free deal. With this checked off my Isle Royale objectives list, I can start working on seeing a bull moose and a wolf. I will need as much luck as possible on these two. Especially, the wolf. Then again, there is always next trip.

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