If you are a moose in Alaska, don't go running to the tourists for protection from wolves.
They'll call the Alaska State Troopers, and the troopers will shoot you because, well, they can.
Must be that I've been doing something wrong all these years. I've been treed by moose. I've been chased by moose. I once played here-we-go-round-the-mulberry-spruce with an enraged cow moose for what seemed like a day and a half.
And yet I never shot a moose in defense of life and property. Hit one between the eyes with a shovel once, but that's another story.
Wanted to shoot a few. Never did. I didn't think I could get away with it.
But then I never knew that if you shot a moose in defense of life and property, you could take "a shoulder and a hindquarter'' and call a charity to get "the rest.'' Or at least that's what has been reported, erroneously it would appear, in the wake of last week's Great Crescent Lake Moose Shoot on the Kenai Peninsula.
In case you missed the details, a couple of Ohioans hiking to the U.S. Forest Service camp at Crescent Lake, where they planned to stay and do some snowboarding, encountered a moose under attack by wolves. This sort of thing happens in the wilds of Alaska.
Unlike the socially caring, friendly, familial wolves known to urban Americans, Alaska has wolves that grab other animals with their teeth and try to rip out chunks of flesh until the animals die. Anyway, the Ohioans ran into this process in action.
Their story, if it is to be believed, is that they encountered a moose charging down the trail in their direction with a wolf clinging to it, fangs embedded the moose's neck. The wolf, they say, saw them, let go of the moose and fled, which makes them a whole lot luckier than the Western Alaska teacher recently killed by wolves.
Yes, I know, wolves don't kill people, people kill, yadda, yadda, yadda. Or it at least there are no "recorded" instances of wolves killing people, which might have something to do with the holes in the record-keeping for the period before humans all but exterminated wolves in most of North America. Suffice to say, there isn't an American Indian tribe out there lacking oral histories of wolves laying waste to people, and there is no reason to doubt those stories.
So the Ohioans were probably lucky the wolf, in their version of events, let go the moose and fled. The moose, however, was still there, and it was agitated. You would be, too. And when a moose is agitated, it does one of two things:
It flees or it stands its ground and tries to kick the snot out of whatever threat it sees.
To the moose at this point, those Ohioans must have either looked like two-legged wolves or salvation, as in "Hey, they scared off the wolves trying to make lunch of me. Maybe if I stay close to these guys, they will scare all the wolves away."
Staying close to the tourists was easy, too, given one had shimmied up a tree and the other had dived under a blowdown. Had the visitors known much about moose, they might have known you can usually be quiet and wait this situation out. Moose are not the smartest animals in the world. Their attention span doesn't last for long. If you sit there quietly and don't get the moose all riled up again, they will usually just forget about you and leave.
The tourists, however -- again if we can believe their reports -- kept harassing the moose, apparently thinking that would make it go away, which it didn't. So finally after what they say was four hours but could, for all we know, have been four minutes, they got on the cell phone and called for help. Thank heaven for those cell phones.
If a moose ever gets you up a tree, just call for help.
Enter now, two Alaska Wildlife Troopers and an agent of the U.S. Forest Service, who, according to an Associated Press story getting considerable play back in Ohio, "decided to kill the moose ... for the men's safety.''
As the story goes, the Ohioans had by then been cornered by the moose for such a long time that when help arrived, they were going hypothermic, so the moose had to be killed. Why does this story sound fishy? Could it be because after being rescued, the men reportedly treated their hypothermia by going to a nearby bar to have "some beers?''
Not even a hot toddy, mind you, but "some beers."
I'm not buying the hypothermia argument. The reality is probably something more like this:
The troopers hike two miles up the Crescent Lake Trail to find a couple freaked out tourists and an equally freaked out moose. It was already getting late in the afternoon. The moose is ripped up and bleeding and looks like it might die sometime soon anyway. It doesn't want to leave peacefully, and it looks like it is going to be hell to force it to leave.
Moose can be as stubborn as they are stupid. Ask people who've tried to shoo a grumpy one off a ski or mountain-bike trail or out of their garden. The harder you try, the more stubborn the moose become, and thus it is easy to imagine someone with a gun in their hands simply saying:
"OK, let's just shoot the damn moose and get this over with."
If I'd been one of the troopers, I probably would have shot the moose, too. And, if you're a trooper, and as a result of the shooting you get to take home a tasty "shoulder and a hindquarter,'' well, sign me up. Except I'm thinking that shoulder and hindquarter report is just the inference of some reporter with no clue as to how this works.
I'd be guessing the troopers, in a show of good faith, probably packed out a shoulder and hindquarter to deliver to a charity; and then told the charity where it could go to pick up the rest. And yes, indeed, an e-mail to trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters confirmed this is indeed what happened. Gov. Sean Parnell, in an effort to attract more troopers, has not suddenly made free moose meat a new trooper perk.
But I'm still left with one question: Why didn't the troopers make the Ohioans pack out the other shoulder and hindquarter? Shouldn't there be a rule in the state of Alaska that says if you're responsible for causing a defense-of-life-and property (DLP) shooting, you're responsible for helping pack out the meat, or hide and skull depending on what sort of animal gets executed?
Not to mention that packing a 100-pound load down any trail will warm you up fast.
Now, lastly, I must note for my greenie friends angry at troopers from taking the food out of the mouths of wolves, that leaving the moose carcass was not an option even if the moose had been previously wounded. First-blood rules do not apply to wolves in Alaska. If a human shoots a big game animal, said human and friends are required to pack out the salvageable meat of the animal. Leaving it for the wolves, no matter how noble that might sound, would be a clear violation of the state's wanton waste law and could have resulted in the Forest Service agent citing the troopers, or the troopers citing each other, or who knows what.
Once the troopers shot the moose, they really had no choice but to make sure the meat was properly salvaged. If it had been me doing the shooting, of course, I would have drafted the Ohioans.
Think of the story they would have to tell then:
Nearly attacked by wolves. Treed by a moose. Rescued by Alaska State Troopers. Ordered into service as porters. Why, it sounds like a Big Wild Life, don't it?
Craig Medred's Iditarod coverage for Alaska Dispatch focused on the "back of the pack" mushers trying to reach Nome. His coverage documented the real life struggles of ordinary people when they cash in everything to chase their dream of becoming an Iditarod dog musher. The stories are a prelude to his forthcoming book, "Graveyard of Dreams: Dashed Hopes and Shattered Aspirations along Alaska's Iditarod Trail."
Contact Craig at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com