While it’s true that moose typically aren’t aggressive towards people, if provoked, they can be deadly. Unlike deer (the moose’s close cousin), moose aren’t usually afraid of humans, so they won’t run away just because you’re there. Their lack of fear makes it more tempting to approach them—to pet them, feed them, play with them, etc.
But like most other animals, moose will defend their young and their territory if they feel threatened. And even though they look slow and bored, they can run up to 30 mph, so you’re not likely to outrun a moose. If a moose attacks, they can use their hoofs and full body weight (they weigh up to 1200 pounds!) to knock you to the ground and trample you.
Here are our tips for avoiding a moose attack while you enjoy the great outdoors.
Signs of an Attack
How do you know when it’s time to back off from a moose?
It’s important to understand that moose can get aggressive at any time of year, but there are certain seasons when they’re more likely to be aggressive. For instance, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests that moose typically become aggressive during the following seasons:
- In late spring, early summer when a cow (a mother) feels her very young calf is in danger
- In the fall when a breeding bull (a male) is competitive and agitated
- In the winter when they are hungry and tired from walking in deep snow
You can also tell if a moose will become aggressive by its body language. Here are 7 signs to look for:
1. The moose stops eating and stares at you.
2. Lays back its ears and raises the hair on its hump, neck, or hips.
3. Smacks or licks its lips, and clicks its teeth.
4. Lowers its head and walks toward you.
6. Shows the whites of its eyes.
7. Whips its head back like a horse.
These are all signs that a moose may attack. But sometimes it may not even show these signs at all—they may just charge without warning!
Practice Moose Safety
Moose live in forested areas and around lakes, ponds, or streams in the Northern Hemisphere of the US. Their habitats are essentially ideal vacation spots for those who love the outdoors. So if you’re out on the trail in this area of the country, you’ll need to practice your “moose safety.”
The best way to avoid a moose attack is not to put yourself in a situation where a moose may become aggressive. In order to avoid such situations, check out these tips:
- Watch moose from a safe distance—give them their space. If you come across one on a trail, consider changing directions or backing off. Moose are somewhat nervous creatures. If they’re approached too much or too closely by people, they can become stressed and may become aggressive.
- According to Kristine Rines, wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game and New Hampshire’s state Moose Program Director, warns that if you’re causing the moose to change its behavior, you’re too close. She says "You should be far enough away to get behind the nearest tree before a galloping horse could get there.”
- Don’t feed a moose. When fed, moose can get aggressive if they don’t get as much food as they expect. They may even attack those who aren’t feeding it. In some states, like Alaska, it’s a crime to feed wild animals because when their aggression becomes unsafe to the public, the animal is put down (and we don’t want that).
- Don’t walk between a cow moose (mother) and her calf. If you do happen to walk between them, back away immediately.
- More people die from moose vehicle collisions than from actual attacks. If a moose crosses your path while you’re driving, let it cross. If you try to move the moose, it may attack your car. Drive slower at night in moose inhabited areas so you don’t hit one (a crash could be fatal to you both).
- Keep your dog close or on a leash. Moose often confuse dogs for wolves, a natural predator.
- If you come across a moose, show respect. Don’t make loud noises, chase, or harass the moose.
What to do if you’re attacked
If you recognize the signs of "moose aggression" (or it just starts charging at you), there are some things you can do to keep yourself safe.
- Back off and run. Make sure you get behind the nearest tree, fence, or building that acts as a strong barrier between you and the moose.
- Curl up in a ball. If a moose knocks you to the ground, curl up into a ball. It may continue running, start stomping, or kicking you. Curling up will protect your head and vital organs.
- Don’t get up until the moose moves a good distance away. If you try to get up while it’s close, it could attack again.
The best way to avoid a moose attack is by learning and taking preventative measures before you go into the outdoors. Add this to your survival tool belt. And while you’re at it, learn about how to survive these animal attacks as well:
Alaska Department of Fish and Game http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livewith.aggressivemoose
Glacier National Park Travel Guide http://www.glacier-national-park-travel-guide.com/moose-attack.html
Appalachian Mountain Club http://www.outdoors.org/publications/outdoors/2010/learnhow/responding-to-moose-encounters.cfm
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/moose.html
Moose Safety University of Alaska at Anchorage http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/upd/prevention/moosesafety.cfm