With the speed of a galloping moose, a Spokane couple’s leisurely walk in the woods went ballistic last week.
Gary and Lisa Marks had left their Lake Coeur d’Alene cabin southwest of Carlin Bay to exercise their legs on their favorite trails near N-Sid-Sen Camp and Conference Center.
They were joined, as usual, by their 10-pound terri-poo and 6-pound Yorkshire terrier.
“Nobody was around,” Gary recalled, “and I’d been hearing about bears being aggressive because of the poor huckleberry crop, so I put my pistol in my belt pack. I don’t normally hike with a handgun.”
A couple of miles into the hike, they were in a thickly vegetated area as they rounded a curve and saw a cow moose about 30 yards ahead.
“She looked at us and then turned away, so Lisa and I turned and ran back around the bend and out of sight,” Gary said.
That started the clock on the most terrifying 30 seconds of their lives.
When they looked back, the moose was walking around the bend. Then 600 pounds of muscle and hooves started trotting toward them.
“We had no out,” Gary said. “Thick brush lined the trail, which is an old overgrown road.”
Marks pulled his pistol from his belt pack and fired a shot to scare the moose.
Indeed, it stopped, but the frightened dogs streaked down the trail.
“She paused a second and then ran right at us,” Gary said. “I told Lisa to run while I stood ground. I thought the moose would take after me and I’d crash down off the road into the brush and lure it away or shoot or whatever.”
But the moose was focused on the runners.
“It was coming right past me, going very fast, just a few feet away and I realized it was after Lisa. I had to save my wife, so I fired.”
The moose’s momentum took it another 25 yards until it crumpled, mortally wounded.
“It was 5 feet from my heels,” Lisa said.
Dave Overman, Idaho Fish and Game Department enforcement officer, described Marks’ shot as “one in a million.”
“It entered forward of the shoulder, somehow missed all the bone and went into the heart,” he said after investigating. It’s rutting season and bulls are more aggressive, but that doesn’t account for the cow’s charge.
“She had been lactating, so she may have had a calf nearby,” Overman said, although no calf was seen. “A calf would be big enough to survive on its own.”
The Markses quickly reported the incident to Idaho Fish and Game Department. After nearly 3 hours of butchering, several hundred pounds of meat was salvaged, taken to the American Legion in Post Falls and distributed to needy families, Overman said.
“I’m not surprised that a moose charged these people,” he said. “I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. We have a lot of moose around and I see videos of people going up to them like they’re pets.
“Moose are the least timid of the deer family. They’re not afraid of much.
“Around here, you’re more likely to have a dangerous encounter with a moose than with a bear.”
Woody Myers has been charged by moose three times in his line of work as the Washington biologist who gets the call to shoot tranquilizing darts into nuisance moose that must be relocated.
In two cases near Spokane he was able to duck behind a tree and the moose ran by.
Once, where he had nothing to put between him and the moose, he stood his ground.
“I waved my arms and yelled and it veered off,” he said. … “That’s not enough experience to come to definite conclusions. I can’t say there’s a good or bad thing to do when a moose charges.
“Running probably isn’t a good idea if you can’t get to safety before the moose catches up to you.
A moose hanging around Lake Coeur d’Alene is likely to have had at least one bad experience with dogs, Overman said.
“Just the smell of dogs may have set that cow moose into a protective mode,” he said. “Maybe it decided it was going to stomp on the dogs, and people just happened to be in the way.”
Myers was with a wildlife enforcement officer who successfully used pepper spray on a belligerent moose at the Mount Spokane cross-country ski area.
Alaska Fish and Game officers have had good results with Tasers in their run-ins with moose.
On the other hand, big-game hunters can tell you that a moose rarely drops in its tracks even when shot in the chest with a high-powered rifle.
“If I were to advise somebody on how to respond to an aggressive moose, I would say back out of the situation and give the animal a wide berth,” Myers said. “If you have a loose dog, though, you still might have trouble.”
Lisa Marks was still having trouble sleeping this week, and Gary said he still feels terrible.
“We know we’re lucky,” he said. “But we feel as though we survived a plane crash and everybody else but us died.”
Contact Rich Landers at 459-5508 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org