Return of the Moose

Thoreau's throat beard: moose inspired? Moose photograph by Mark Picard.

Moose are arguably the most novel of all North American large mammals, if for no other reason than their strange appearance. Whereas deer and elk are handsome creatures, rams majestic, and bears awe inspiring, moose seem to suggest that the Creator had a strange sense of humor. They have horse legs, bison shoulders, a camel’s face, and a throat beard that would have made Henry David Thoreau envious. Even the horns are weird, looking less like antlers as we traditionally know them and more like giant butterfly wings or palmated wooden bowls.

I guess you could say that moose look prehistoric, which is misleading because they’re actually a relatively modern creature. Moose came to America via the Siberia-Alaska land bridge, and most researches think that significant moose dispersal in North America occurred only about 10,000 years ago. Compare this to the whitetail deer that have been kicking around the Americas for about 3.5 million years.

While moose were widespread throughout pre-colonial New England (Algonquian Indians called them Monse, or Moos, or Mus, depending on the family division), the animals didn’t fare too well once the settlers got established. Prized for their mild meat and thick hides, the moose proved no match for the Europeans’ shoot-all-you-want-and-God-will-make-more approach to wildlife management.

In an August 1889 Outing magazine article on moose hunting, Arthur Selfridge writes: Moose are hunted in four ways – first, still hunting in the woods, which means “get a shot, if you can, in any manner you can; second, still or jack hunting in the water from a canoe in the summer months; third, running them down on snow shoes, when there is a crust, in the spring; fourth, calling in the fall.”

Not surprisingly, moose were all but extinct by the later half of the nineteenth century.

But those were the bad old days. Today, thanks to the efforts of hunters, conservationists, state fish and wildlife departments, and the re-growth of the Northern Forest, moose have firmly re-established themselves in northern New England. There’s an estimated population of 29,000 in Maine; Vermont and New Hampshire have populations in the 5,000 – 6,000 range.

In fact, the recovery has been so dramatic that moose overpopulation is a problem in certain portions of our readership area. Acres of overbrowsed stems and trampled trees don’t bode well for either the animals – who risk malnutrition – or a forestland owner interested in growing healthy trees.

Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have all re-instituted a controlled moose hunt in the past 25 years. Hunters enter a lottery, and a specific number of tags are issued each year. New York doesn’t have a moose season, but may soon.

  1. Gabe → in Corinth, VT
    Oct 23, 2009

    I expect a post hunt update, Dave.

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