The Moose Chronicles – Gone To The Dogs

Big Bad Bull Moose – Rocky Mountains of Northern Colorado

As I wind up my 2022 moose photography season, I thought I’d share one of my favorite moose photos from this year.

I’ve taken to editing some of my moose photos for B&W presentation. Here’s one from late July of this year.

This particular fellow was hanging out in the same area for weeks, until a camper set up shop with his dog and that was end of that good fortune.

Now, I like dogs, I even have two of them, but I don’t take them out with me when I’m in the outdoors looking for moose. Moose don’t like dogs, they think of them as wolves and predators, so any dog in the area will make moose nervous and ultimately the moose will go where there aren’t any dogs.

Case in point: This July, I was out in the wilderness looking for moose with a friend. We stopped in an area where moose often gather. It was a dirt pullout at a trailhead along a forest road. Within a few minutes of sitting and waiting, two large bull moose wandered from the nearby woods and began munching on the nearby willows, probably less than 200 feet from us. Both moose were aware of our presence and didn’t seem too concerned with us. You can always tell when a moose is concerned about your presence, they will turn and point their rear end at you. Their body language is clear. If they like you they’ll face you, if they don’t like you, they’ll point their butt at you and if you do anything else to annoy them, all you’ll see is their butt as they move away from you. Most wildlife is like that actually. If you see a bunch of animal butts, you probably aren’t going to get much more out of the situation. We were beginning to get a few photos of these two bulls when a pickup truck pulls up near us. In the truck were an older couple and their dog. They hop out of the truck and begin walking by us towards the trailhead with the dog off leash. The trail was near the two bulls, with only a small stand of trees separating them from the couple. As they walked by us, I politely told them about the two bulls in the willows just off the trail. I warned them about taking their dog down that trail, as it could spook the moose and who knows what would happen if that dog were to get excited. They smiled, thanked me and turned around, moving back to their truck. Good deed done, we turned our attention back to the moose, who by this time had already been spooked and were moving off in the opposite direction. Game over.

Now these people were well intentioned. They were out for a day of enjoying the great outdoors and brought their dog with them. Seems like a good time. But, they were totally ignorant about what they were doing. They were not paying attention to their surroundings and were totally ignorant of the fact they were allowing their dog to run off leash in a very dense moose habitat with moose present. They would have walked right into the mouth of the situation and wouldn’t have realized anything until it was too late.

We left the area and drove a couple of miles to a different spot, where we spotted a bull, cow and calf hanging out in the woods next to an opening. Moments later the same couple we had encountered pulled up, jumped out of their vehicle with the dog in tow and began hiking along the road near the moose. At this point, we considered it useless to work this particular area and packed up our stuff and drove off.

This is the typical scenario these days. The influx of hikers, campers and day trippers brings with them an influx of dogs. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the presence of dogs and moose always results in no moose. There is nothing more disappointing to me than to drive into an area and see dogs running around. It’s an exercise in futility. Dogs have a scent, they poop, they pee, they bark and moose can detect their presence without effort.

I have even seen a few photographers looking for moose with their dogs tagging along. I don’t understand the mentality, but I don’t think they are putting much thought into what they are doing when I see it happen. Personally, when I’m photographing moose, I am on a singular mission. That mission is to find, and photograph moose. All of my attention is given to that goal. I try my best to not interfere with the activity of the moose and I try my best to not interfere with others. I simply have no tolerance for ignorant or thoughtless distractions by others. I don’t confront people, I just leave the area. Not everybody has the same mindset as I, and there is nothing I can do about it except to change my own behavior to improve the odds of achieving my goal.

So, what to do about all this human activity creeping into the moose habitat?

From my own experience and observations, when the humans arrive the wildlife leaves. There’s no point in trying to do wildlife photography in the presence of ever growing numbers of people. People destroy habitat and make things inhospitable for the wildlife to continue thriving. I have to change my mindset and find new places to look for moose, which shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ve done it before. I’ll follow my old game plan and find areas that people don’t know about. I’ll dial things in and it will be okay. I won’t share my secrets with anyone outside of my photographer friends and eventually those areas will also see an influx of human activity, because that’s what humans do. My goal is to be there before everyone else finds out about it. It’s worked for 15 years in Northern Colorado, but there are other areas that have not been overrun by human activity.