Moose on the loose

Know the difference

In 2011 more than a dozen moose were killed by hunters who thought they were shooting cow elk. Know the difference. Illegally shooting a moose carries a fine starting at $1,350.

“If you’re not 100 percent certain about the target, do not pull that trigger,” says Parks and Wildlife Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. “It’s a serious concern that some hunters are either unable to properly identify their target, or are simply too impatient to take a responsible shot.”

Wildlife managers say that accidents usually involve a combination of poor judgment, low-light conditions, a long-distance view of the animal and not using a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.

“A serious hunter understands the importance of good optics,” says Dean Riggs, assistant regional manager in the Northwest Region. “In many incidents, binoculars or a spotting scope could have helped the hunter identify their target.”

Unlike their moose cousins farther north, the Shiras moose found in Colorado can be found in a wide range of habitats. While the animals favor streamside and pond-side willows, you also might run into moose in lodgepole pine, oak brush, aspen, spruce, fir and even sagebrush flats, the same habitat preferred by elk.

But they’re vastly different in size, color, antler shape and habits. A mature bull moose weighs 1,200 pounds—twice that of the average bull elk. Moose are dark brown and appear almost black. Elk are light brown or golden, with a pale yellow rump.

Moose also have large, bulbous noses and a “bell,” or large flap of skin, hanging under their throat (an elk’s snout is narrower with no “bell”). Bull moose also have broad, flat antlers, unlike the pointed antlers of an elk (warning: the antlers on some young bull moose haven’t flattened out yet). Other telltale features include white/gray inner legs and an overhanging snout.

Moose also act differently than elk. Typically, moose will not flee like elk at the sight of a hunter. Your best bet: always identify your target before shooting.

Elk and deer aren’t the only trophy big game on hunter’s wish lists for Northwest Colorado. The area is also a hotbed for moose, the largest deer in the world.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife reintroduced moose to the North Park region in 1978. In 2005, it introduced moose on Grand Mesa, and in 2008 it transferred another group of moose to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area near Meeker. Since these reintroductions, moose have thrived through Northwest Colorado, spelling a good chance of success for properly prepared hunters.

The giant herbivores, which can reach six feet at their shoulders and top 1,000 pounds, love the habitat of western Colorado so much that their numbers continue to grow. The North Park population is estimated at more than 500, with the Middle Park herd topping 300 and the Grand Mesa population hovering around 250.

If you were lucky enough to pull a license this year—the chance of getting one out of nearly 11,000 annual applicants is about 2 percent—don’t rush into trying to fill your tag. Experts recommend being more patient on your hunt than for any other big game.

Moose are relatively solitary and can be difficult to find. Stick to forested areas, particularly those near marshes and swamps. Any area thick with willows, their primary source of food, is also prime habitat. Moose also eat pine needles and deciduous tree leaves as well as aquatic plants and aspen trees. Your best chance to see one is early in the morning or late afternoon. Be aware that they also can be extremely aggressive, especially when startled, and are known to defend their home territory.