When you first meet a moose, your mind shuffles images through your head. You’d seen elk everywhere in Yellowstone the day before, they were almost like pests, but this beast’s snout was not like an elk’s. The animal was way bigger and taller than a deer, it was – it was huge, with freakishly long legs. Its snout was more like — oh my god – it’s a moose!
When you realize this is a real, live moose, and it’s about 20 feet away from you, in your makeshift campground off the Beartooth Highway in the middle of nowhere between Wyoming and Montana, you wonder what you were thinking.
This moose is not the friendly, hyuck hyuck lumbering creature always shown in kids’ cartoons; this was a ginormous beast in attack posture. It’s flaring its nostrils and eying you with deep disdain. Clearly it had seen you first, and seemed to be wondering what to do about you when you finally became aware of it moving through the forested area next to your camp.
You freeze as you realize your car, the all-wheel drive Subaru wagon that had ferried you safely into the nether reaches of the Rocky Mountains, was further away from you than the moose was. Your boyfriend, the veteran outdoorsman who thought camping by yourselves away from any civilization was a good idea, was standing at the car sorting supplies.
You can’t channel your inner Oregon pioneer; you’d been too domesticated in the four generations since your ancestors traversed the Oregon Trail. Who were you kidding? No pioneer would be standing at the edge of a forest in the Rocky Mountains gathering sticks for the fire at dusk without some means of defending themselves.
It dawns on you that you have no Plan B, at about the same time you realize while you’re 5’10”, this creature is at your eye level — 20 feet away. How tall would it be when it got closer? (The answer, you would learn later, is about 6.5 to 7.5 feet tall.)
While you remain frozen as your mind races, you realize the moose’s expression hasn’t changed. It’s staring you down like a pitcher getting ready to send his curve ball straight for your head. You realize later you didn’t imagine this in your panic – scientists report that moose have “extensive” and “ritualized” posturing behaviors.
What little senses you still have about you tell you the animal hasn’t moved at all – it’s still facing perpendicular to you, eying you with its head tilted slightly sideways, but making no movement towards you. Your gut says it’s waiting for you to stop dithering and show you’re not a threat, so it can continue on its way. So you finally decide to treat it like a bear, and walk ever so gently backwards.
When the moose turns its head forward again and continues nonchalantly down the forest edge, you collapse in the safety of your trusted Subaru. You swear you will never venture so deep in the wilderness again without being prepared.