I have been photographing moose in Colorado for over 15 years. My home turf for this activity is typically North-Central Colorado but I have photographed them all around the state. I am most active with these beautiful animals during the late spring and through the summer months up until hunting season begins in late August/early September.
If you are a wildlife photographer in Colorado, moose may be of high interest to you as a photographic subject. I get a lot of questions when I’m in the field, so I thought I would generate a short essay explaining the moose in Colorado.
According to the North American Nature website, the American origins of the name Moose date back to 1606, from Algonquian languages, where the name became used in English for the first time. According to some sources, the name is derived from “moosu,” which means “he strips off.” There are other Native American sources with a similar name Moos, meaning “eater of twigs.” The scientific name based on the geographical location is Alces americanus.
There are several species of moose (also known as elk in Europe) found around the world, including:
1. Alaskan moose: Also known as the Yukon moose, this is the largest subspecies of moose, found in Alaska and parts of Canada. Adult males can weigh up to 1,600 pounds (725 kg) and have antlers that can span up to six feet (1.8 meters) in width.
2. Eastern moose: This subspecies is found in eastern Canada and parts of the northeastern United States. Eastern moose are generally smaller than their Alaskan counterparts, with adult males weighing between 800-1,200 pounds (360-545 kg.)
3. Western moose: This subspecies is found in western Canada and parts of the western United States. Western moose are similar in size to eastern moose but have slightly different physical characteristics.
4. Shiras moose: Also known as the Wyoming moose, this subspecies is found in the western United States, including Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Montana. Shiras moose are the smallest subspecies of moose, with adult males weighing between 600-1,200 pounds (270-545 kg.)
5. Siberian moose: Also known as the Eastern elk, this subspecies is found in parts of Russia, China, and Korea. Siberian moose are similar in size to Alaskan moose, with adult males weighing up to 1,300 pounds (590 kg.)
Each subspecies of moose has its own unique physical characteristics, such as antler size and body shape, as well as adaptations to their specific habitats and environments. However, all moose share certain traits, such as their large size, impressive antlers (on males), and a diet consisting mainly of woody vegetation like twigs, leaves, and bark.
The reintroduction of moose in Colorado began in the late 1970s and early 1980s as part of a larger effort to restore native wildlife populations to their historic ranges. Moose had once lived in Colorado but were extirpated from the state in the late 19th century due to overhunting and habitat loss.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife, now Colorado Parks and Wildlife, began reintroducing moose in the state in 1978 by releasing 12 Shiras moose from Utah into North Park, a large, remote valley in north-central Colorado. Over the next decade, the agency released additional moose from Utah, Wyoming, and Montana into other parts of the state, including Grand Mesa, the San Juan Mountains, and the Gunnison Basin.
The reintroduction efforts were successful, and moose populations have since expanded into other parts of Colorado. As of 2021, Colorado’s moose population is estimated to be around 2,500 animals, and the state has become a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts and hunters.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), there are currently six moose populations or “herds” in Colorado, each of which is estimated to have a different population size. Here are the six moose populations in Colorado and their estimated population sizes as of 2021:
1. North Park: The largest and most established moose population in Colorado, with an estimated population of around 2,500-3,000 animals.
2. Middle Park: A smaller moose population located to the south of North Park, with an estimated population of around 300-500 animals.
3. Grand Mesa: A growing moose population on the Western Slope of Colorado, with an estimated population of around 400-600 animals.
4. Brainard Lake: A smaller moose population in the foothills of the Front Range, with an estimated population of around 50-100 animals.
5. Mount Evans: A small but growing moose population in the mountains to the west of Denver, with an estimated population of around 40-60 animals.
6. San Juan Mountains: A smaller, recently established moose population in the rugged southwestern part of the state, with an estimated population of around 40-50 animals.
It’s worth noting that these population estimates are based on CPW surveys and may be subject to change based on factors such as hunting, predation, and habitat quality. Additionally, individual moose populations may fluctuate from year to year depending on environmental conditions and other factors. I personally believe these estimates of the overall moose population around the state to be low, but I have no solid data to back my skepticism, beyond my own observations over time. Colorado Parks & Wildlife does not have a lot of resources to keep accurate counts up to date.
The presence of moose in some areas has also created challenges for some communities, particularly in areas where moose and humans are in close proximity to one another. Grand Lake, Estes Park and other areas generate frequent human-moose interactions, most typically with female moose defending their calves. Moose can be aggressive when threatened or provoked, and collisions with vehicles can also occur. As a result, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has implemented measures to manage moose populations and minimize conflicts, such as regulating hunting seasons and educating the public on how to coexist with these large, majestic animals.
If you’re looking to find and photograph moose in Colorado, there are several areas in the state that are known for their moose populations. Here are a few places to consider:
1. North Park: This large, remote valley in north-central Colorado was the site of the initial moose reintroduction in the late 1970s and is still home to a healthy population of Shiras moose.
2. Grand Mesa: Located on the Western Slope of Colorado, Grand Mesa is home to a growing moose population and offers scenic views of the surrounding mountains.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park: While moose were not reintroduced to Rocky Mountain National Park, they have migrated into the area on their own in recent years. Moose can often be found in wetland areas in the park, particularly around the Kawuneeche Valley.
4. San Juan Mountains: This rugged mountain range in southwestern Colorado is home to a small but growing population of moose.
When searching for moose in these areas, it’s important to remember that they are wild animals and should be treated with caution and respect. Always maintain a safe distance, use binoculars or a telephoto lens to get close-up shots, and avoid approaching moose with calves. Additionally, it’s important to follow all state and federal laws and regulations regarding moose hunting and photography.
The average lifespan of a Shiras moose in Colorado is around 15-20 years. However, many factors can affect the lifespan of a moose, including disease, predation, hunting, and habitat quality. In general, moose in the wild tend to have shorter lifespans than those in captivity, due to the various challenges they face in their natural environment. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the average lifespan of a moose that has been harvested by a hunter in Colorado is around 7-10 years.
There is no official record of the largest moose ever recorded in Colorado, as Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) does not keep track of individual animals or maintain records of harvested game. However, it is believed that the largest moose harvested in Colorado weighed around 1,000 pounds (454 kg) and had a rack (antlers) with a span of about 56 inches (142 cm). This measurement was taken from a bull harvested in the North Park area, which was the site of the initial moose reintroduction in the late 1970s and still has a healthy population of Shiras moose. It’s worth noting that individual moose can vary widely in size and antler size, and that the largest moose are typically found in areas with abundant food and good genetics.
The gestation period of the Shiras moose is around 240-250 days, or about 8 months. Moose cows typically give birth in late May or early June, after a pregnancy that begins in late summer or early fall.
The average weight of a Shiras moose calf at birth is around 30-35 pounds (14-16 kg), although this can vary depending on the health and condition of the mother and the availability of food and resources. Moose calves grow quickly in their first few months of life, feeding on their mother’s milk and learning to forage on their own. By the time they are weaned in late summer or early fall, they may weigh up to several hundred pounds. However, even at this size, moose calves are vulnerable to predation and other hazards and rely on their mothers for protection and guidance until they become independent.
The twinning rate of moose in Colorado is generally low, with most moose cows giving birth to a single calf each year. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the average twinning rate for Shiras moose in Colorado is less than 5%, although it can vary from year to year and from population to population. Moose twins are relatively rare because moose cows generally have limited resources to invest in reproduction, and producing and raising multiple offspring requires a lot of energy and resources. Additionally, moose calves have a high mortality rate, with many succumbing to predation, disease, or other factors within their first year of life. As a result, the survival and growth of a single calf is often the top priority for a moose cow, and the production of twins is relatively uncommon.
In Colorado, Shiras moose typically shed their velvet from their antlers in late August or early September. This process occurs when the blood flow to the antlers slows down, causing the velvet to dry up and peel away. The shedding of velvet marks the end of the antler growth cycle and the beginning of the mating season, during which bulls will use their antlers to compete for mates.
The antlers of a moose are typically shed in the late fall or early winter, usually between November and January. This process is triggered by a decrease in testosterone levels after the breeding season and is facilitated by specialized cells that dissolve the bone tissue at the base of the antlers. Once the antlers fall off, the moose will begin to grow a new set in the spring. The timing of antler shedding, and regrowth can vary depending on factors such as nutrition, age, and genetics, and may differ from one individual to another.
How about those teeth? Yes, moose have upper teeth, just like all other mammals. Moose have a set of upper incisors, which are the front teeth that are visible when they open their mouth. They also have a set of molars and premolars in both their upper and lower jaws, which they use for grinding and chewing their food. The upper front teeth are difficult to see though.
The upper teeth of moose are hard to see because they are located toward the back of the animal’s mouth, behind a fleshy upper lip. When a moose opens its mouth, the upper lip pulls up and covers the upper teeth, making them difficult to see from the outside.
In addition, moose have a relatively long snout, which means that their upper teeth are set back further in their mouth than in some other animals. This also contributes to the difficulty in seeing their upper teeth.
However, despite being hard to see, moose use their upper teeth just as much as their lower teeth for biting and chewing their food. They are an important part of the moose’s dental structure and essential for their survival in their natural habitat.
Moose use their teeth to break off branches and twigs, as well as to strip the bark from trees, which makes their teeth an important tool for their survival in their natural habitat.
Moose have several senses that they use to navigate their environment, find food, and avoid predators. Here are some of the main senses that moose rely on:
1. Hearing: Moose have excellent hearing and can detect sounds at a distance of up to several hundred yards away. This is an important sense for detecting predators and other animals in their environment.
In addition to riparian habitat, moose in Colorado also require a mix of other vegetation types for food and cover. This may include aspen groves, willow thickets, sagebrush flats, and other types of wetlands and meadows. Moose are opportunistic feeders and will consume a variety of plant species depending on their availability and nutritional content, but they generally prefer woody browse such as willow, aspen, and serviceberry. During the winter months, moose will also feed on coniferous trees such as spruce and fir, and they may use snow to reach the upper branches of these trees.
Overall, moose in Colorado require a diverse mix of riparian and upland habitats to meet their nutritional and behavioral needs, and they are most commonly found in areas where these habitats are in close proximity to one another. Conservation efforts in Colorado have focused on maintaining and enhancing riparian habitat through measures such as stream restoration, beaver dam construction, and vegetation management to benefit the state’s moose populations.
Estimating the age of a moose can be done by examining the animal’s teeth, antlers, and physical characteristics.
The most reliable method for estimating the age of a moose is by examining its teeth. As moose age, their teeth wear down and develop distinct patterns of wear that can be used to estimate their age. Specifically, biologists look at the wear on the molars, which are used to grind up food, and the incisors, which are used to strip bark and browse. By counting the number of cusps on the molars and measuring the length and width of the incisors, biologists can estimate the age of the moose within a few years.
Another method for estimating the age of a bull moose is by examining the size and shape of its antlers. Antler size and shape can vary based on age, with older bulls typically having larger and more complex antlers than younger bulls. By examining the size, shape, and number of tines on the antlers, biologists can make an educated guess about the age of the bull.
Finally, biologists may also use physical characteristics such as body size, overall health, and behavior to estimate the age of a moose. For example, older moose may have more scars or injuries, be more aggressive during the breeding season, and have more experience navigating their environment than younger moose. However, these methods are less reliable than tooth wear and antler characteristics and are usually used in combination with these more concrete measures.
The primary predators of moose in Colorado are black bears, mountain lions, and wolves, although the latter two species are relatively rare in the state. Coyotes and bobcats may also prey on moose calves and weakened adults, but they are not considered significant threats to healthy adult moose.
Black bears are the most common predators of moose in Colorado, especially in areas with dense forest cover and abundant food sources. Bears will typically target moose calves or weakened adults, using their strength and sharp claws to overpower and kill their prey. Mountain lions, also known as cougars, are another major predator of moose, but they are more selective in their prey choices and will typically target smaller, easier-to-catch prey such as deer or elk. Wolves are occasionally spotted in Colorado, but they are not known to have established a resident population in the state and are considered to be rare visitors from nearby states such as Wyoming or Montana. When they do occur in Colorado, wolves may prey on moose, but they are more likely to target elk or other large ungulates.
To me, moose are the most interesting wildlife in North America. I hope you find them interesting too.
About Gary Gray
Gary Gray is a wildlife photographer based in Colorado who specializes in capturing images of moose and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Gary is known for his stunning images of moose in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, which have been featured in various publications and online galleries.
In addition to his wildlife photography, Gary is also an accomplished landscape photographer, and his images of Colorado’s rugged mountain terrain have earned him a reputation as one of the state’s premier landscape photographers.
Gary’s work has been featured in numerous publications, including Outdoor Photographer, Colorado Outdoors, F-Stoppers, Readers Digest, Out There Colorado, The Colorado Encyclopedia and many other Internet and print publications. He is also a frequent speaker at photography conferences and workshops, where he shares his knowledge and passion for wildlife photography with other photographers.