The BIGGEST boob in the bush
The lordly moose can outrun a race horse, lick his weight in wolves and smell trouble for miles. But, just make a noise like a lady moose and this wary Ferdinand of the forest becomes a silly lovesick showoff who'll gladly gamble his life for romance
THE ENIGMATIC moose, shaggy king of Canada’s big-game animals, at most times is a gentle creature fond of wading in glassy lakes and munching tender lily pads. Yet, smitten by romance, it sheds all resemblance to the famous flower-sniffing Ferdinand of the familiar song. When two bulls of the species, each weighing nearly three quarters of a ton and armed with larger antlers than any other kind of beast, square off to fight for the same cow, their fury shakes the woods. Such gory and titanic combats are seen by few humans for they take place in the mating habitat deep in the wilderness. Ted Cusson, a rugged black-haired Northern Ontario guide and game warden, had a ringside seat at one of them.
Cusson, hunting in the Mississagi district 100 miles north of Lake Huron, heard a noisy threshing at night and at daylight left his camp to investigate. There was no sound except the song of the birds as he crept up a high ledge of rock to reconnoitre. Then he became aware of a vibrant rasping, punctuated by a staccato slapping sound and hoarse labored breathing. He looked over the ledge and beneath him a battle of bulls was under way in a small clearing.
The animals were working out of two pits, or wallows, which they had dug about thirty feet apart. A cow was browsing a hundred feet away, apparently oblivious to the struggle. The bulls were evenly matched in size and weight, though broader palms in the antlers of one indicated it was older.
They had disengaged and were backing toward their respective pits when Cusson first saw them. There, they glared silently at each other, sides heaving from mighty exertions. Then, heads down, they shouldered slowly forward like wary experienced wrestlers, alert for openings, fearful of a flank drive by the enemy. Their ears were down against their heads like those of vicious horses. The thick fur on their mammoth necks bristled. They pawed the ground with huge forefeet, sending clods of earth straight in the air. The earth fell on their necks and shoulders and seemed to excite them to rage. The staccato sound came from their big tongues, which were out of their mouths, whacking from side to side against their heads.
When they were a few inches apart, they closed with a tremendous heave. Their horns clattered together and their necks bulged with strain as they strove to twist and upset each other. There was no grunting; just a gargantuan, labored breathing like the blowing of walruses, and the grinding of stone-like antlers.
Their bodies arched under the pressure. Occasionally, there was a lightning movement of legs, as one or the other sought firmer footing. The older bull got better leverage, forcing the body of the younger Continued on page 53
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'he Biggest Boob in the Bush
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into a crescent like a cat s back. It gave ground, but was able to keep its antlers engaged. It braced itself. It held Then it heaved mightily and drove the old bull back. Suddenly the old bull broke and was flung to the side. The younger drove spine-tipped antlers at its ribs but the old bull, wise in battle, backpedaled furiously and escaped a goring. Tired but far from broken in spirit, it went back to its pit and waited for the young bull to come on. But the young bull, also near exhaustion, went to its own pit.
The old bull turned toward the cow. Infuriated, the young bull crossed to his opponent’s pit and engaged him again. Again there was a Herculean struggle, lasting about seven minutes to the point of exhaustion, with the old bull seeming to have the upper hand. Again they retired to their pits. They were locked for the third time and the young bull seemed to be definitely getting the best of it. when the cow looked up and saw Cusson. She
grunted loudly and moved away. The bulls quit the fight as though a timekeeper had sounded a gong. Before the animals could disappear into the trees,
Cusson shot the old bull.
Not only in battle is the moose spectacular. It can dive like a beaver, outrun a racehorse, and has the sharpest nose and ears in the Canadian bush. It eats more and grows faster than any other four-footed thing on this continent. A mature bull weighs up to 1,800 pounds, with three quarters of its weight packed on the front half of its body, has legs four and a half feet long and may tower to eight feet at the tips of its antlers, which are sometimes as wide as a three-ton truck. By
standing on hind legs it can browse twelve feet from the ground, and it has been known to get foliage twenty
feet high by putting its nose over a branch and bending the branch down. Furthermore, it is tough enough and adaptable enough to have survived conditions that exterminated many another huge beast. It came originally from Asia via Alaska, more than 500,000 years ago, and lived through the ice age, eluding the glaciers that killed off the four-ton mastodon.
A common belief that moose are a doomed and dying breed probably stems from the fact they can’t be legally hunted at all any more in the prairie provinces and the Maritimes and are protected elsewhere in Canada by hunting restrictions. Yet, while these protective laws are now necessary, moose aren’t disappearing. There are at least 200,000 of them left in Canada, and possibly 300,000. Experts guess that when the first Europeans settled in North America there were 500,000 moose, but they then ranged far into the U. S., where they are virtually extinct today.
While moose have vanished from some regions they have turned up in others. In comparatively recent years there has been a great migration from Montana to British Columbia. Game conservationists have been staggered by the amazing results of a transplanting of moose from the mainland to Newfoundland, which had no moose in 1904. The habits of moose, more than those of most animals, seem to be influenced by their surroundings.
Compare the impressions of a guide in the B. C. wilderness with those of a Nova Scotia farmer and you’d think there was an entirely different beast under discussion. In a primitive,
hunted state, the animals are the wildest of the wild; in the Maritimes, where hunting has been forbidden for years and where they’ve become accustomed to man, they block traffic on roads with bovine indifference, damage crops and make careers of scaring horses. They have often been tamed, harnessed and raced and are the world’s biggest and best natural trotters. Years ago a moose owned by a man at Amherst, N.S., used to race pulling a sleigh across the Tantramar marshes to Sackville, N.B., a distance of about eight miles. It beat every horse it met.
Moose are almost as amphibious as hippopotamuses and are among the finest swimmers of the animal kingdom. It takes two men in a cancre, paddling as fast as possible, to overtake them. Their exertions in water appear to have no weakening effect on them; after the longest swims they make shore with tremendous power and speed.
The long-famous trademark of this largest of American beasts is the “bell” beneath its massive neck. The bell occurs on both cow and bull. It consists merely of a piece of pendulous skin and seems to be utterly useless.
Some Indians claim that when moose are in a friendly mood, they caress each other with their bells.
Antlers, the crowning glory of the moose, are worn only by bulls. Woodsmen often argue about whether nature put them there purely as weapons for the males, or also to safeguard the females. The argument is unlikely ever to be settled but it’s true that a cow moose can evade the unwelcome attentions of a bull by trotting off through a thicket so close that a wide-antlered male can’t follow.
In a bull calf the antlers are mere
knobs under the fur. In a yearling they emerge as single spikes and are shed in the winter, to sprout again bigger and better the next spring. In a mature bull the antlers sprout rapidly each May, achieve full magnificent development by August or September, and are shed each fall or winter, generally to be eaten by porcupines and squirrels. The largest antlers taken by a hunter were on an Alaskan bull and measured 77^ inches from tip to tip. The record antlers in Canada, 73 inches, were carried by a bull in the Peace River country.
The antlers are a gleaming nut-brown in the rutting (mating) season between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. When that strenuous period is ended the beasts seem eager to be rid of them and knock them off against trees as they become more porous and brittle.
Most battles between these bushland giants end when the loser flees, but fights to the death do occur. A few years ago near Smooth Rock Falls, in northern Ontario, an observer in a forest-fire lookout tower found his phone to ranger headquarters was out of order so he traced the line through the bush. It led to an area of churned earth and smashed underbrush where he discovered two moose, one dead and the other dying. The dead animal had been gored through the lungs and stomped terribly. Its opponent was still upright, leaning against a tree. The stomach of the standing animal was ripped open and it was too weak to run. The man returned to the tower, got a rifle and shot it through mercy. Part of the broken telephone wire was wrapped around the antler of the fallen animal, which thus may have been prevented from fleeing when the battle was lost.
Moose shot by hunters are sometimes found with long deep scars from muzzle to forehead. As many as four ribs have been found calcified together, after being broken years earlier by an opponent’s antlers. Some have skin ripped in neat strips about an inch wide on flanks and rumps.
Moose don’t rate medals for intelligence but it seems they are not so dumb as to charge head-on at a dead run as deer occasionally do. The late John McLeod of Penobsquis, N.B., once clocked a moose at forty miles an hour for almost two miles in front of an auto. Collisions at this speed would probably lead to swift extermination of the race. However, young bulls may try modified head-on charges before learning it doesn’t pay. One such foolish young bull was shot by a hunter guided by Hughes. One antler, almost two inches thick, was broken off at the base and was bleeding. One eye was closed and the skin of its face was rolled back on its neck in a great fold. Surprisingly, this beast was called by a guide with a horn and in spite of its injuries answered the mating call at a run.
Bulls sometimes die together when their antlers become inextricably locked. Jack Benson, a game warden traveling by air over Alaska, observed two such battlebound animals. He landed the plane and sawed an antler of the victor from those of its antagonist, which was already dead. The released bull flourished his remaining antler threateningly, then turned away.
Ever since Champlain dubbed it l’Original in 1603 the moose has been rated Canada’s most important game animal; but, while much study has been given many lesser creatures, little scientific research has been made on moose until recently. Now however, in a book entitled North American Moose (to be published this fall by University of Toronto Press), Dr. Randolph L. Peterson, curator of mammalogy at
the Royal Ontario Museum, gives the animal long-overdue attention.
Peterson has discovered there Sí four sub-species of moose in Americ (it was formerly believed there wen three).
The Western Canada moose and the Maritimes moose have always been thought the same and have been classified as Alces Americana. The other types are Alces Gigas, or Alaskan, by far the largest, and Alces Shirasi, an isolated group in the western U. S.
Peterson, a Texan who joined the Ontario Museum in 1946 and was subsidized for four years by the Carling Conservation Club, has found that western and eastern moose are different beasts and that, in fact, they met in central Northern Ontario as late as 1900.
Peterson is convinced the animals became separated during the movement of ice down the continent long ago and since then have acquired different characteristics. Meanwhile, there’s a mystery in why they took thousands of years to come back together in Northern Ontario. When the first moose appeared near Longlac, 200 miles northeast of Port Arthur, about the turn of the century, the Indians didn’t know what it was and refused to eat its meat.
There has also been a remarkable migration of moose into central B. C. in comparatively recent years, apparently by way of the Rockies from Montana. Though there were none in the province in the eighteenth century they may number 50,000 today. Hunters kill more than 3,000 a year.
They’re Not Man-Killers
Meanwhile, in Newfoundland moose have been the central figures in the most successful transplanting of wildlife—fish, flesh or fowl—in Canadian history. Four animals from New Brunswick were released in Newfoundland in 1904 and their descendants today number 25,000. Hunting takes 3,500 a year but they are still on the increase.
The swimming ability of moose has become a legend in Canada’s forests. Peterson, who roamed most of Ontario studying the animals, found that they dived as deep as eighteen feet in foraging for plant food. They leave barely a ripple as they go down and re-appear rump first, up to fifty seconds later. A few years ago a cow and bull were seen swimming across the Bay of Fundy from Cumberland County to Cape Split. They completed the ninemile journey with ease. Other swims up to twelve miles have been reported.
The reactions of moose to men vary widely, depending on whether they have been accustomed to humans since calf hood. To test them in a wilderness state—and also to test the stories of hunters who claim to have been treed by moose—Peterson once placed himself directly in the path of a bull moose during the rutting season. The animal stopped at thirty feet, bristled its mane and lowered its ears menacingly. Peterson felt sure it would charge, but he refused to budge. The moose finally turned off into the bush and bypassed him.
Eight or ten cases of bull moose treeing hunters are reported every year in Canada, but as far as I could discover there has never been a case of a moose killing or even injuring a man. They can make a fearsome noise however, although woodsmen have long known that the alarming threshing and roaring of bulls in rutting season are mostly bluff—to scare another bull away.
They can be sure that a rival will hear the din a long way off for nothing has keener ears than a moose. The
hearing of one of them in a U. S. zoo was tested by a biologist. It could hear footsteps from a minute and a half to three minutes before these footsteps could be heard by human ears. The nose of a moose is equally acute, but its eyesight is weak. Last fall a myopic moose and a myopic man almost bumped into each other in the Red Lake district of Ontario. A well-known uranium prospector, who is nearsighted in spite of his thick glasses, was following an outcrop of rock with a I Geiger counter. Suddenly, he realized j that the blur four feet from him was a , bull moose. His reaction was typical. He threw away the Geiger counter and fled a mile and a half back to camp.
In a wilderness state most mature moose have a deep-rooted fear of man, and for this reason it’s impossible to hunt moose upwind for their magnificent noses can detect human scent I miles away.
But wilderness moose definitely attack autos, trains and other objects they don’t associate with man or his scent. One day the Rev. William Hincks, United Church minister at Matachewan, Ont., was driving on the road between Elk Lake and Gowganda. He saw a moose on the road, stopped his car and tooted his horn. The animal responded by charging the auto with front feet flailing. It drove both hooves into the hood as the minister huddled inside. As it backed away for a second assault, the clergyman got the car moving and fled into town.
Carl Baxter, a section foreman on the Ontario Northland Railway, accompanied by three section hands, two of them Indians, chased a moose in a railway speeder to get photos of it. As the animal tired the Indians warned Baxter not to try to get close. Suddenly it turned and charged the speeder. The four men leaped off in the nick of time and ran into the trees.
The toll of moose taken by trains is serious. Vince Crichton, game inspector at Chapleau, Ont., has been keeping track of the number of deaths on a 120-mile stretch of the CPR and has found they average about twenty a year. A major moose tragedy occurred in a rock cut of the Algoma Central Railway north of Sault Ste. Marie around 1930. A train rolled into a herd bedded down on the track and nineteen animals were killed by the train and by game wardens who disposed of the injured the next day.
Young moose are born in late May or early June, usually in some secluded thicket or perhaps on an island to which the mother has swum for her ordeal. Twins seem to occur at 25 percent of births but rarely are there triplets. One set of triplets was observed last spring near Hearst, Ont. A baby moose has tremendously long legs on a stubby body with a large head. It’s the fastest-growing animal in America and packs on one to two pounds a day for the first month and three to five pounds a day thereafter.
It is forced to swim to follow its mother, perhaps on the second or third day of its life. Peterson and Dalton Muir, a photographer, watched one calf a few days old attempt to follow its mother across a channel a hundred yards wide between St. Ignace Island and Bead Island. The little animal cried piteously in mid-channel but stuck to its task and finally reached the shore in between six and seven minutes. Some calves drown when their strength gives out. Peterson observed one resting with its nose on its mother’s rump. Long-time bush travelers like Ted Cusson report that the mother will apparently tow the youngster in this position and the baby also gets its forefeet up on mother’s rump.
Calves stay with their mother until
they are yearlings. They would like to stay longer, but when the mothe^ new calf she chases away the yea with lashing hooves. When first thi on their own, yearlings wander a the country stupidly, getting in 1 of autos and tangled in fences. T seem to stay together after the me has chased them both away.
The enemies of moose are poacl deer, thin ice, ticks, tapeworms, ! flukes, “moose disease,” crusted s more than three and a half feet d and wolves. Moose can be sn; easily by bending over birch trees attaching wire nooses over trails animals use. The moose contacts wire, the tree springs upright and animal strangles. About twenty y ago a notorious poaching gang in Í Brunswick used this method to sup hundreds of carcasses to fox ranci on Prince Edward Island, where tl aren’t any moose. A couple of y; ago game wardens in northwest Quebec found a ring supplying me meat to lumber camps by the t Sometimes poachers have railway ( ployees as henchmen to peddle meat through the country. Not 1t; ago, many lumber companies 1 “hunters” whose job was to sup camp tables, and game wardens susp some still have.
Reckless on Rubbery Ice
Moose will live in apparent tolérai with white-tailed deer but usually wh deer become numerous the moose ji won’t increase. Moose were plenti in the Maritimes until deer came in the hundreds of thousands; in spite long closed seasons the moose doi multiply. The same situation preva in Algonquin Park, a large game pi serve in Ontario. A moose requii more than forty pounds of food a d; in winter and sixty pounds in summi It lives in a restricted range and the appears to be a direct connection b tween the animal’s reproductive c pacity and the quality and quantity fodder available. For these reason game authorities in Newfoundlan which has no white-tailed deer, ha1 refused to permit any to he imported.
Moose are reckless on ice, even wh; it’s rubbery. On northern lakes ar rivers they often break through thi ice, can’t get back on it and drowi Sometimes they also bog down i mires and marshes.
“Moose disease” is a malady thi seems to affect their eyesight, the brain and their powers of locomotioi It has been known for years and fairly common throughout Canada be its source is obscure. The disease gav rise to reports in New Brunswick las year that moose in that province wer “going insane.”
Moose are almost helpless and ble© easily about the legs when caught i) deep heavily crusted snow. If they ar in poor condition they can fall prey t wolves, which don’t seem to bothe with them otherwise. Bears will gral young calves if they get the chance but cow moose are usually capable o protecting their young against an] predators.
Many tame Canadian moose hav; become international celebrities. / few years ago Joe Laflamme, oí Gogama, in Northern Ontario, whe raised several of the animals, took ont
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ork, got it to the top of a i t;;ipr with a bunch of people in an ^levaior and had it interviewed on a radio program. Joe always spoke to his ^ moose in Indian, so it wouldn t be .confused by orders from other folk.
The most famous moose was one ' owned by the New Brunswick Department of Lands and Mines in 1930 and named Jennie. Jennie was sent to sportsmen’s shows in Boston and New York to advertise the province’s hunting. The late Douglas Black, who was director of the New Brunswick Information and Travel Bureau, once bribed a truck driver to stall with Jennie at the rush hour at a busy New York intersection. The moose blocked traffic for miles and through adroit arranging newspaper photographers were on hand to record the spectacle. Later Jennie was smitten by pneumonia, real or imaginary, and was taken to a New York veterinary college where she was photographed having her pulse felt, and temperature taken.
Because of the animal’s wonderful nose, hunting moose is a difficult task and the best way to get them is to call them, in the same way the Indians did before the arrival of the white man. Calling is an art. Sometimes reckless young bulls will be attracted merely by the breaking of sticks, but a wily and wary mature bull has to be handled just right by a man with a birch-bark megaphone if it is to be brought within shooting distance, and can only be called successfully in windless weather when the hunter’s scent won’t betray him. The best time is in the evening or in the morning before nine o’clock, for moose rest during the day and, moreover, there’s usually some kind of a wind blowing in daytime. Both the guide who calls and the hunter who will shoot must maintain absolute silence between calls. The knock of a paddle on the thwart of a canoe, or a muffled cough, will warn the animal there’s something phony.
There must be no smoking, perhaps for two hours, until the animal is called. The guide lifts a horn that he made the previous June from the solid inner bark next to the cambium layer of a birch. To achieve the right tone, the bark must be perfectly dry. He gives a low seductive female moan which sounds like oohah, oohah. Perhaps he will make a special bell-like sound just above the surface of the lake; the sound is carried great distances by the water. There’s a wait of twenty minutes, in which a bull may be heard approaching or grunting an answer. If there’s no response another call is made, followed by another wait of twenty minutes, when a third call is made. If there’s no reply by this time, the caller switches to the grunt of a bull, in the hope he’ll attract a bull who already has a cow and is willing to repel an interloper.
Strangely enough, members of the Loyal Order of Moose are among the most avid moose hunters in America. Last fall Joseph Mochnaly, a representative of the order, went to Cochrane, Ont., and told outfitter Len Hughes he wanted to get a whole moose and transport it back to the U. S. This seemed an impossible job for, because of their size, moose usually have to be skinned and quartered where they are killed in the bush.
But caller Dave Black brought a big bull right out on the track of the Ontario Northland Railway for Mochnaly to shoot. It was loaded on a jigger and then into a refrigerator car. Today it stands on the lawn at Mooseheart—the order’s famous home for orphans in Illinois—a monument in its way to the ardor that makes the moose the mightiest fighter, the most aggressive lover and often the biggest boob in the bush.