Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Moose

Richard and I have pieced this together from both our best recollections. Understand while it seems like it was all in slow motion and took hours, when I checked my cell phone it was 45 minutes after we left the house with the teams that I called Donna. In that time we had covered close to 7 miles of trail and the moose was dead, so in all likelihood the attack didn't last very long at all. It was minutes that seemed like hours.....

Thursday was a busy day. After feeding the kennel we headed up the highway to collect my drop bags from Nancy Crowden's freezer where they were 'hard freezing' as it was so warm outside. We swung by Jamie West's where 1 more bag was in her freezer before making the big drive to AirLand Transport in Anchorage.

The bags were unloaded, weighed and sorted by Iditarod officials. I forked over almost $1000 to get my 1593 lbs of food and gear down the trail. A big whack of cash, but still a good bargain!

That done Richard and I picked up a few supplies in Anchorage and Wasilla before heading back to Willow. "The Plan" was to head out on a 50 - 60 mile run with the dogs, camp for 4 hours, come 50 - 60 miles home and then 8 hours later do it all over again.

Despite the heavy sleds, the dogs were in a great mood and running very strong. I was very pleased and thrilled to be out on a big camping trip with them.

As we were running along Little Willow Creek I spotted a moose ahead, but he was along the river bank well off the trail and headed further away when he saw the dogs. A mile or so later when we were stopped for a moment Richard said there were 2 more moose further down the trail past that one. "Maybe that is our moose for the night", he said. I hoped so.

There was a new trail 'dragged' (or 'groomed') that bypassed the pretty Willow Creek Campground that we took. There is a tree right on one of the corners coming into the Campground that would have been tricky to avoid with big, loaded sleds - and the area has a lot of moose - so skipping it wasn't a bad idea. The trail jumped back off the Big Su River and we turned onto the 'Lucky Shot' Trail eventually heading for Vera Lake and the Iditarod Trail.

The team was still moving very strongly when we made the turn off towards Almond Lake.  Just as my leaders Tess and See were rounding the corner and vanishing out of my sight I saw their ears shoot forward and felt the a burst of speed coming from the team. Sure signs that we weren't on the trail alone. As always in those situations, I started talking to the dogs in my best 'calm, assertive' voice - "Easy, Easy".  Not only do the dogs know the tone, I want whatever we are about to encounter to know I'm there. (It is also a warning for Richard behind me.)

As soon as the sled cleared the corner I was on the bar brake with both feet, sure enough a big, dark moose butt moving away from us came into view.  While still standing on the brake I leaned over and dug my big snow hook into the snow, bringing my excited 12 dogs to a halt.  The moose turned to face us - not at all a good sign - but then swung around and started back down the trail.  Richard's leaders were next to me by now.  We waited a bit to give the moose time to get down the trail without any 'pressure' from the dog teams.  Richard offered to walk up ahead and check to make sure she was gone (a move that it turns out likely would have been VERY bad - I might have had to shovel the dog yard by myself for the rest of the month) but I said we should be fine if we just went ahead slow and carefully.  Usually once they are moving away from the dog team on a good trail the encounter goes well.  Most bad encounters occur when you come around corners and startle them or in conditions where they feel they can't flee - or that is what I thought.

I picked up my hook but kept both feet on the brake moving cautiously forward.  Immediately the moose came into range of my headlamp. She hadn't fled at all, she had simply stepped out of range of my light, turned and waited for us.  She was maybe 10 feet from See and Tess when I stopped them.  I yelled at her but from her body language it was clear that she wasn't in the least intimidated by me. I was definitely intimidated by her 1000 plus pounds. Her head was low and swinging from side to side, her ears were flat back and in a second she charged.

I remember thinking "This isn't happening. This isn't happening" as she reached my dog team and her feet started flying.  She was making no effort to avoid the dogs - in fact, she was actively aiming at them.  She came right between the leaders and stomped her way through the team. I saw her hooves connecting with the dogs and a couple yelped.  I moved to the right of my sled and she thundered by on the left.

The noise she was making was the scariest thing I have ever heard in my life.  It was a guttural, growling noise that sounded like dinosaur sound effects in low-budget science fiction movie.  Neither Richard nor I will ever forget it.

As she stomped through Richard's team she got tangled in his gangline and dragged his team into a huge ball.  She paused for a split second and I yelled at Richard to get out of her way as she aimed her attack at his sled.  He jumped into deep snow behind a tree as she went OVER TOP of his loaded sled, knocking it over and stripping the straw bag off.

It all happened so fast that there was no time to do anything but get out of her way.

At this point my team decided  to swing around and go after her.  I tried to stop them only to see the moose coming back up the line of dogs.  Rather then just proceed down the trail once she had cleared the dogs and sled with only a split second of hesitation she came back for round 2.

By now the dogs seemed to get that they were in danger and were trying to stay away from her but they were so tangled that wasn't easy.

She passed within inches of me as she stormed up in front of my sled.  My sled was over on its side and the team still turned around but Turtle and Runner were right next to her.  She was too close to the sled for me to get my gun.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw Richard at his sled getting the .44 magnum that he carries. I suggested he hurry.

He stepped up next to me and said "Over her or into her?".  "Over",  I replied.  That is the one decision I wish I had made differently.  Never again will I offer an attacking moose a warning shot.

The second the gun went off a number of things happened - my dogs freaked, knocking me off my feet - and the moose charged.  Richard dove for the snow bank and briefly had 1000 lbs of pissed off moose standing over top of him.  His gun was filled with snow and basically pointless. I looked up to see her coming down the team swinging and stomping.  Lying on the ground, tangled in ganglines, watching an attacking moose coming towards me is an experience I could have happily lived my life with out.

I rolled out of her way at the last second and got only a glancing blow to my leg.

I scrambled to my feet and headed for my sled for my shotgun.  As I chambered a shell I asked Richard if he wanted to shoot or wanted me to. "I will", he said (he had had a lesson with both the shotgun and .44 right after arriving in Alaska).

We do not take the decision to shoot an animal lightly at all, but once they had initiated an extended attack, we are going to protect those we love.  We were prepared and had discussed the possibility on numerous occasions.

The cow was standing basically on the runners of Richard's sled, growling and swinging her head at us. It was obvious another charge was imminent.

Richard stepped clear of his wheel dogs and to within 3 feet of her before firing a shot directly into her head. She dropped instantly.

Through out the whole incident I am pleased to say that Richard and I remained quite calm.  I believe that helped keep the dogs relatively calm and didn't escalate the attack even more.  Certainly our hearts were both pounding and we were terrified but on the outside we were just dealing with what needed to be dealt with. However at this point, my very polite British friend let off with a string of obscenities that almost made me blush.  It was more than appropriate.

Immediately we had another set of emergencies to deal with - 24 dogs were in the biggest tangle you could possibly imagine.  Everyone was freaked by either the gunshot and/or the moose...we weren't sure if any were hurt and if so, how bad.

We set to work accounting for all dogs, freeing them from the lines and making sure they were all okay.

When we had the worst of the tangles sorted I pulled out my cell phone and called Donna.  I know that shooting a moose, even in self defense is a serious matter....it needed to be reported and the moose dealt with appropriately so her meat could be salvaged for the local food bank.

HUGE thanks to our friends that jumped for us that night when their phones rang - Donna at the top of that list. She called next door neighbors, the Jonrowes.  DeeDee was on the phone to me almost immediately to make sure we and the dogs were okay and to tell us that Mike was on the way out with a snow machine (she also told me that they had had issue with a moose in that area earlier in the day, but was able to run her off with a snow machine. Likely it was the same one).

Mike dragged the moose out to the nearest road (something that must be done) and offered us an escort home. Unfortunately, it became obvious shortly after we got underway that a few dogs were too injured or sore to make the run home, so he led us to the nearest road.

Another call to Donna and she and Keith Blaha were in our dog truck and on the way to us.

We also needed to gut the moose before she froze (state law).  Donna called the Stitt family and Skeeter and Skipper were down in no time to do that for us.

And big thanks to Doug Grilliot.  Doug was the one that armed us for the trail and walked us through instructions for using the guns. I can't imagine how the situation would have ended had we not had a gun and the ability to use it correctly.

In regards to the moose, whatever was going on with her she was not acting like a 'normal' or 'rational' wild animal.  She had plenty of opportunities to easily end the encounter and never even seemed to consider them.  This was a young cow, she did not have a calf with her, she was not pregnant, had a full belly, and unlike alot of moose in the area this winter, was in good condition.

The dogs all seem to be doing relatively well. A few are sore and a few seemed to be in shock for a bit.  Beauty completely melted down when all the shooting started (two more shots were put into the moose to ensure she wouldn't get back up and wasn't suffering) and was simply standing in harness screaming at the top of her lungs when it was all over.  Irving had a blow to his quadricep tear the muscle and is out for the season but should recover fully.

I know that virtually every dog got kicked AT LEAST once as I watched it happen, so it is such a blessing that more dogs were not seriously injured.

Meeting an aggressive moose on the trail has always been one of my biggest fears running dogs. We have now been through that - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - right??


41 comments:

Unknown said...

Wow. Just...wow. I'm so glad it wasn't worse, but I'm so sorry you all had to go through that...

Corgi-Mom said...

Oh. My. Word. This was awful, but after reading your description I realize it could have been much worse.

Anonymous said...

We are all so very thankful that you, Richard and the dogs are all OK...

Anonymous said...

We are all so very thankful that you, Richard and the dogs are all OK... Andre, Natalie and the Snowdrift furkids...

Jenny Glen said...

That is riveting reading, Karen! You've faced your fear and came up the winner. Don't let it make you jumpy now. We're rooting for you!

Annika said...

I'm so glad the dogs and you and Richard are okay! That seems like a too close call - and skip the warning shot next time! I am all for respecting wildlife in their natural habitat but that much of a decisive attack just doesn't sound normal to me.

Hope everyone gets through the physical and psychological after effects as well. You all are a tough bunch and have been through a lot together so I am confident you will all be okay!

bakavi said...

Tough to even imagine how frightening that would have been knowing all the dogs were so vulnerable, much less yourselves.
Prayers that that is the ONLY moose encounter any of you will ever have.

Susan Scofield said...

holy mackerel..now that is a story. The Gods were watching over you two and the dogs. so thankful for that. Wow!

Susan Scofield said...

holy mackerel..what a story. the gods were watching over you and the team. so happy for that.

Cathy Galuska-Seidel said...

Wow, Karen! I'm so glad you and Richard were able to take care of the situation. This means you are meant to run the Iditarod and finish! I was wondering...is it a rule you can't have the gun already loaded? Also, glad you mentioned how the state takes care of the dead moose. No waste. Press on!

Anonymous said...

I was shaking and crying just reading about this, Karen! I'm sorry poor Irving got the worst injury,but after having read about other recent moose encounters, I know it could have been so much worse!

Helen J said...

That makes the Happy River Steps seem like a walk in the park. Glad to hear you are all relatively ok. What an awful experience. Thanks to everyone who stepped in to help you. Good shot Richard.

dogu said...

Karen,
So glad you, Richard, and the dogs came out as well as you did. May your future runs be less exciting.

BTW, you can add 'suspense writer' to your CV...

Doug F

Jane Eagle said...

Holy C***! With all the moose around this year, I'm surprised all of you aren't wearing your guns as sidearms while running the dogs! (seriously.) I am so glad this wasn't any worse.

The Thundering Herd said...

Karen -

So glad that you and the dogs are ok (as best as could be expected). Thanks for such a detailed accounting. I can only imagine the sheer terror of the minutes, but you have given me some ability to conceive it.

May the rest of your runs be quiet and predictable.

Rick Breckheimer said...

Karen glad that things went as well as can be expected under those conditions and You,Richard and of course the dogs are primarily ok. Hang in there and looking forward to seeing you in McGrath in a couple of weeks!! Semper Fi-- Rick

Anonymous said...

I read about moose in Winterdance. Glad that you kept your head and injuries were not that bad.

Leslie said...

Wow - very glad to hear you and your dogs are okay. What a terrifying experience. Moose, while not normally aggressive, are not to be trifled with. Our thoughts are with you and your pups.

Billie Rhodes said...

Wow, so scary. I'm glad you are all safe and things didn't end worse than they did!

AussieAlaskan said...

Karen, amazing tale of your encounter - soo scary. I haven't heard of this often but it does happen. Best of luck for you and your dogs - keep running :-)

Anonymous said...

so terrifying, we're glad it had a "relatively" good outcome, and that you, Richard and the dogs are ok. We'll be saying many prayers for no more moose encounters and a safe Iditarod.

FiveSibesMom said...

So glad you are all OK. What an experience...I can not even imagine going through that. Hopefully, you will never have to face that type of situation again!

Shirly said...

Karen I am so glad you and Richard and all the dogs aren,t hurt seriously. How scraey reading your account. Sorry your one boy got it worse. Hoping and praying this does not happen again and you seen none. I am sure the dogs are resting for a while. Best wishes you seen no more moose.

Anonymous said...

"not acting like a 'normal' or 'rational' wild animal?"

-You used the words "normal" and "rational" to describe a wild animal? Don't forget that these are WILD animals.

Glad everyone lived to run again.

One person should have gone ahead of the teams and fired warning shots in an attempt to scare off the moose. This should be standard procedure under circumstances like these. Safety first instead of trying to push the dogs through.

Anonymous said...

This moose may have had rabies. I hope it was tested before it's meat was given out as food.

charlee said...

Wow! What a story! So glad you were prepared and able to defend yourselves and the teams. Praying this is your first and last encounter.

Teanna said...

So glad you were well-armed! Takes experience and guts to do what you're doing! Hope everyone will be ok for the Iditarod!

Barbara said...

A blessing? I'd say it's a blessing and a miracle that more dogs weren't injured or worse, and you and Richard weren't hurt.
I'm exhausted and almost shaking just reading about it. And I hope I would react half as rationally as you did!
I believe it's a good omen for Iditarod.

Karen Ramstead said...

Rick Breckheimer - can you drop me an email at northwapiti@gmail.com???
Thanks!

Wild Dingo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wild Dingo said...

OMG! Karen, I'm just so sorry you had to GO through this. I'm relieved beyond belief everyone-- you, Richard and pups--is alive and relatively well. Like you said: this makes you stronger. sounds like you learned some really valuable lessons. the warning shot lesson a big one, no doubt. I'm sure a lot of people would have made the same decision at the time but now YOU know! Again, i'm so relieved you are all ok. the amateur doggie behaviorist in me is curious to see how the team takes to running again and hopes that the trauma to them is minimzed.

I hope you never see another moose again!
best wishes from all of us at Wild Dingo

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing about rabies...there was just a case in PA of a deer that a hunter shot being rapid, he had to get exposure shots because he gutted it. Hopefully this is not the case at all here.

Anonymous said...

Really glad you guys are safe and hope doggies heal quickly. Caron

Kelpie and Collie said...

Wow. Just wow. That's a life memory. Write it all down now so you can hand it to your family. Hope the dogs recover well.

Mary said...

YIKES!! Kudos to you and Richard for handling the situation so well-amazing feat in itself. So happy that no one is seriously injured and Irving will make a full recovery. I have the Halvorson Huskies making the anti-mooses screechy noise- Wishing you a safe and uneventful rest of the season.

Holly and Khady said...

Wow Karen! I can't believe how terrifying it must have been because just reading it was terrible. I'm so sorry you all had to go through this and that not only did the dogs get scared and injured but that the moose had to be put down too. Definitely glad none of the dogs were more injured or even killed. That would have been just horrible. Glad you were both carrying guns for safety. I'm surprised more mushers don't considering how many different types of wildlife you might encounter up there.

Badas Musher said...

OMG how scary.. I have seen Moose when I lived in Idaho and would go camping up in Island Park near West Yellowstone... Also when out hunting...

The Heartbeats said...

WHOA!! This is insanity! So glad everyone was okay. Being from South Carolina, I've not had much experience with moose BUT I know they can be terribly angry creatures! I relate it to being attacked by a Belgian horse or a Clydesdale.

Now I know if I ever go to Alaska to be very cautious!

Mamma Heartbeat

Cyber-sibes said...

Woozers! Thank heavens you all survived! That sounds terrifying! Hope you & Richard & the dogs recover physically & emotionally very soon!!! Good luck in the Iditarod, Karen!


Jack, Moo & Pat

Sunkissed Adventures said...

I have always wondered what happens in a situation such as this. Thank goodness you are all alive and well to tell the tale.

Peggy Jewell said...

All I gotta say is "WOW'..and I thought 'loose dogs' were a problem when we are out running!!1

thank goodness everyone is alright..