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Chapter 2. - About The Animal

In This Chapter
- A Brief Description, Ranges,
Feeding Habits, Characteristics, Daily Patterns

A Brief Description

Scientific name - Alces alces
Subspecies - 4 subspecies are found in Canada and the United States

The 4 subspecies are identified below.

- American moose
- Northwestern moose
- Shiras moose
- Alaska moose

a cow and calf mooseThough considered homely by some, moose have developed a number of features that are very useful in its environment. Long legs let it wade and feed in deep water, and also easily navigate deep snow, muskeg and fallen timber. Big splayed hoofs and large dewclaws buoy it up on soft ground. A long, overhanging nose is used for stripping bark and hooking over tree limbs that it pulls down to feed upon. Big ears give the moose a keen sense of hearing. The "bell" of hair-and-hide hanging from its neck drains off water when it raises its head from feeding on aquatic vegetation.

The Shiras moose is the smallest of the species. Adult bulls can weigh 1,200 pounds, stand 6 feet high at the shoulder and have antler spreads of over 4 feet. The largest is the Alaska moose, especially in the Kenai Peninsula. Big bulls weigh nearly a ton, stand 7 feet at the shoulder, and have antler's spread well over 6 feet. American and Northwestern moose are midway in size. Cows are approximately one-third smaller. The moose's coat is generally a blackish-brown with lighter tan underparts. Calves are unspotted.

a bull moose sparringThe mating season or "rut" runs from early September to sometime in November, peaking out for two weeks in late September. No harem is collected. A bull courts a cow until mating is achieved, then departs in search of another. Males become extremely aggressive during this time -- sparring, pushing matches and occasional battles break out to determine superiority and the right to mate a receptive cow.

Females are not inactive during the rut and actively seek out males by bawling or moaning. The estrous cycle extends for 20 to 22 days with females being receptive for a week or two. The actual period of heat lasts for one day.

In late spring, one or two calves are born, each weighing about 30 pounds. Labor lasts about 15 minutes and the calf is on its feet in one day. Reaching 130 pounds by October, both sexes become sexually mature during their second year. Cows can reproduce annually until 18 years old, although few moose survive in nature past 10 years.

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RangesMoose Range Map

While elk were pushed into the higher elevations of western mountains to escape the advances of man, moose have migrated towards the northern reaches of our continent.

During historic time's moose have expanded their range northward in the boreal coniferous forest and into the forest-tundra woodland. Occasional individuals wander out onto the tundra in the Northwest Territories and a population has been successfully introduced in Newfoundland. Moose are found from sea level to treeline.

This species will generally remain in the vast timbered country of the North, although sightings are becoming more common on the prairies wherever woods and water coincide. Moose require a combination of cold weather and heavy timber. As well, moose need a habitat with lots of water -- rivers, lakes, and streams. It frequents the bushy areas along shores, forest openings and recently burned, logged or flooded areas.

Spruces, tamarack, balsam fir, aspen, poplar and maples are trees commonly found in typical moose habitat. The presence of willow, alder and dwarf birch thickets are absolutely essential. Canada, Alaska, and the northern portions of some states offer the only large areas left on the continent that provide the necessary combinations.

Moose are not known to be a migratory animal. Unlike elk and mule deer that migrate to winter feeding grounds, the moose remains in its same general area the year round. Where 18 inches of snow will normally force elk to migrate downward, moose can survive in nearly twice that depth.

Today, the moose is found from Alaska, where it was virtually unknown a century ago, down through all the wooded country of Canada and southward to just inside the borders of the northernmost states in the Great Lakes region. Moose are also found along the Continental Divide, into the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.

East to west, this animal ranges from the Atlantic Ocean to the Bering Sea in the Arctic. The moose also occurs throughout northern Europe and Asia from Scandinavia and the Ukraine east to Siberia, Mongolia and northern China. Misnamed by our early settlers, North American moose are known as elk in the old world.

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Feeding Habits

Moose feed on a large variety of foods. They browse on the twigs and leaves of many kinds of plants, particularly dogwood, willows and aspen. Grasses and marsh plants are also sought. Aquatic vegetation growing in lakes and streams is particularly relished in summer. During this season of the year, animals are seen at the edges of water or feeding in it. Adult moose will stand virtually submerged in deep water, lowering their heads underwater, grazing for long periods of time on underwater growth. Where a moose cannot reach these succulent plants, it can actually dive in deep water (up to 20 feet), remaining below for up to one minute.

When winter ice prevents the moose from reaching their favorite foods, they turn to twigs, bark, leaves and branch tips. Since moose have no upper front teeth, twigs are snapped off and bark is peeled with the upper lip and lower incisors. Two winter foods are willows and quaking aspen. Another is the second growth found in old burns. When reaching for tender branch tips, moose push over smaller trees with their heavy bodies. After nibbling the green branch tips, they allow the tree to spring back. Meadows containing willows are popular and in the West are known as moose pastures.

feeding in the willows over winterAn adult moose requires a tremendous amount of forage to fuel its huge body and maintain its good health. An average of 45 pounds of vegetation is eaten per day. This rises to 65 pounds in spring and up to 120 pounds or more in autumn.

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The moose is the largest member of the deer family. Physical features are its palmated antlers (males), massive body, long legs, large overhanging muzzle, and the "bell" or flap of skin hanging from the throat. The head is horse-like, and although their eyesight is poor, this handicap is offset by exceptional senses of hearing and smell. While not generally vocal, bulls do "croak" loudly during the rut and cows bawl; both bellow and grunt when under pressure. In spite of its size moose can attain speeds of up to 35 miles per hour and move through heavy cover without making a sound.

the start of antler growthNormally passive animals, moose fight and defend themselves by striking with the front feet and bull's also challenge prospective opponents with their antlers. Laid back ears and an erect mane signals a direct threat. Antlers begin to grow each April and are fully formed by September, The first set appears as knobs, with full sets are developed from ages 6 to 12 years. The skin or "velvet" that nourishes the antler bone dies and is rubbed off in early fall. Maximum spread can be up to 80 inches and weigh over 75 pounds. Antlers are dropped in at the new year and are often gnawed on by rodents for calcium. To annually grow such an immense structure is truly a feat.

Most active at dawn and dusk, moose will move all day. Generally quite sedate, these awkward looking animals can be quite playful at times. Calves are often seen running in circles, splashing through water, chasing and sparring with each other. Due to the cold region's moose favor, long legs have evolved to handle normal snow cover. Movement is hampered at depths over 2 feet and 3 feet or more may cause difficulties. Moose "yard up" in some regions when deep snow conditions are encountered. Beaten trails can then be used to facilitate feeding and movement.

a new set of antlers in velvetAlthough moose do not migrate as such, they often use one range in summer and another in winter. Forage, quantities of snow and protection from the weather are the deciding factors. Movements may be only a few miles to over a hundred miles. Home ranges can be unusually small for such big animals. Even though some animals range up to 100 square miles, most moose spend their entire lives in a relatively small area -- usually within 1 to 6 square miles. Ranges are larger in summer than winter than in winter. Moose are not known to be territorial and are generally loners. The exception to this is in late fall and winter when loose groups of several animals may come together.

Population densities in suitable habitat average from .3 to 3 animals per square mile. Man's destruction of forest, hunting and severe winters all help determine the health of a given moose population. It should be noted the predation by wolves and bears (mainly on calves) are important factors in controlling the number of moose in an area. Wolf control often has to be used in order to ensure proper moose populations in certain areas. It is generally accepted that a ratio higher than one wolf to 20 moose results in a declining moose population.

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Daily Patterns

a cow and a calf feedingFor the most part, the daily pattern of a moose revolves around feeding. They require tremendous amounts of forage. This species does not follow a strict feeding schedule -- these animals can be found at this activity at any time of the day or night. Normally however, when food is plentiful during the summer and fall seasons, there are two periods when feeding is heaviest. These are from just before dawn to a couple of hours after and again late in the afternoon. Other than making the occasional short trip to water, and lying or standing sleepily in a comfortable stand of forested cover, there is usually not much activity. Bull's have been known to stand for hours without movement, brain's apparently idling, seemingly enjoying the simple and pleasurable pastime of doing nothing. At those times, the animal will commonly be in a relatively open area along a lake shore or a forest-edge feeding ground. If threatened, they simply melt noiselessly into the nearby woods.

During the summer and fall seasons, moose like to feed and wade in the water. Here the animals can find relief from daytime heat and enjoy some brief freedom from summer flies. However, this does not mean moose only favor low-country, bogs and muskeg. They also like the high timbered plateaus with jutting points and promontories. Always keep in mind though, day or night regardless of their elevation, moose will not be found far from water.

a moose in waterLike other big game species, moose tend to descend at night and go higher when morning breaks. In good moose country you will observe the big animals coming down from timber at dusk to the edges of lakes and streams. They feed in these locations until it is fully dark and often remain through the night until daybreak. With the coming of full sunlight, moose start to move upward onto adjacent ridges or into wooded rolling hills where they can find suitable shade and a secure place to rest.

When filled up, moose retire to thicket's and spend the greatest part of their day dozing and chewing their cud. A number of beds may be used during the day and night. Old beds are not purposely reused, but the animal will stay in a preferred area. An individual deposits about 15 to 20 pellet groups per day -- indicative of its prodigious appetite.

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... on to Chapter 3 - Hunting The Moose

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