I see him through my spyglasses. He’s gigantic, and he’s walking straight towards me—me, high on the hill, and he, deep in the valley.
A male Eastern Moose might average 1,400 pounds in weight, and stand more than six feet tall at the shoulder, and this critter is clearly in that category. His magnificent antlers alone may weigh 40 pounds, which is an enormous load for me to comprehend carrying on top of my head, much less trying to fit between trees. The flap of skin and long hair that hangs from his throat is also quite pronounced.
His muzzle and much of his body is black, but there is some brown—dark brown—throughout the remainder of his bulk. I suspect his coat appears even darker because he’s just slipped out of the water—an action he accomplishes with incredible easiness given his enormous bulk. With his colouring so dark, I find it easy to understand how he might have lived so long—12 years perhaps. He just blends in so well with the fall shadows found in deep valleys and along bendy brooks.
His front legs, longer than his back pair, render him highly capable of clearing fallen trees—another practice I watch him perform with considerable grace. I’m shocked at the distance he covers in such a short time, given he is in no hurry. He’s just so large and athletic. But he is on a hunt of his own—he’s looking for a cow, and it’s not hard to guess what he wants to do when he finds one. It’s all about his biology, and today it’s ruling him—so much so that he won’t feed. He’ll spend all his time in search of a mate. Yet bulls don’t pair-bond permanently; they stay with the cow only long enough to breed, and then go in pursuit of another partner.
Yet, while moose may live to be twenty, it’s still remarkable that this one is as old as he is, because there are many things that can kill a moose long before he reaches the enormous size of this giant. Black bears are a significant predator of moose calves until the calves are nine-weeks-old, and there are a lot of black bears in these parts (I’ve not had one trip into the backcountry this fall, where I didn’t see one).
Plus, a single moose can carry as many as 12,000 ticks and, in an effort to get relief from such discomfort, moose will lick, scratch, and rub themselves in ways that lead to hypothermia when hair is removed while trying to get at the parasite. Such behaviour also leads to secondary infections, making the chances that a moose lives a long life, shaky.
It doesn’t help that Newfoundland drivers are not the best in the world, unnecessarily hitting large numbers of these large mammals every year. And, given the Province of Newfoundland issues 30,000 moose licences annually, twenty years is a long time for a moose to avoid being felled by flying bullets—a fate this magnificent beast seems destined to meet today, until he makes a hard left back into the brook, again crosses it with ease, and heads up the hill away from us, making me believe that he got a whiff that not only are there are no females for him in this valley, there is a stinky old feller-from-away sitting high on the hill.