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Moose

( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )



DURING my explorations in Muskoka and the north, I have had a good opportunity of studying the moose while living in its natural haunts. The name " moose " is derived from " moosa," an Indian word meaning wood-eater. The animal is so called because its food consists chiefly of twigs and the bark of young trees, rather than herbs and grasses : its short neck renders grazing difficult, and is rarely resorted to.

Moose are distinctly forest-loving animals, and live only in wooded countries where the winters are long and severe. They have always been less numerous in the west than in the extreme east, where the forest and lakes are singularly well fitted to their habits, and it is there that they are still hunted with the most success.

The fall, or autumn, is the best time of the year to hunt the moose. The weather at this season is bright, clear, and bracing; I doubt if any climate can compare with the district of the Canadian lakes during September. From September 20th to October 20th is the season for moose-calling, and the full of the moon is the best time, as the bulls seldom come up to call before sunset. The most successful hour is between sundown and dark. Moose are very pugnacious in this season, and fight desperately. During the summer of 1889 I discovered the skeletons of two bulls with their huge antlers locked in death. Only once did I catch a glimpse of a fight between two bull moose, and the following is a quotation from my remarks upon the subject:

An analogy we may find among the huge boulders on yonder hills, that surround an inland lake some three miles distant. There, with antlers locked and united for ever, are two huge bull moose. The first challenge came from this very bay. It was answered : the voice was madly pursued, until confronting him in this desolate spot stood the king of the forest, eager for the fray.

" They fought with equal madness. The shock of their charge seemed to vibrate through the forest: from their lips fell a foam, and from their eyes darted forth red streams of fire. Their thick, massive shoulders hardly quivered when the flesh was gored and torn. The breath came from their broad nostrils like steam escaping from a vent. Such a combat could not last. How well matched they are ! It is difficult to accede to the one or the other an advantage of one ounce of weight or an inch of height.

" See ! they have broken loose from that last, long contact, and each has withdrawn as though the laurels of victory cannot be won. They stand panting and waiting, each expectant of the other. It is for the last charge. How noble they look even in their ferocity, gathering up those strong muscles, with head erect to bellow forth those terrible sounds that can be heard for miles !

" The dust and decayed vegetable matter whirl once more in a dense cloud, and those savage warriors have charged for the last time. They strain, force, and dash each other viciously forward; wounds gape wider, blood spouts afresh in crimson trickles; their narrow sides swell as though bursting under that tremendous effort. Now they tremble, they totter, they sway, they fall ! They can. rise no more ! Their antlers are locked, and cannot be freed ! Thus they must starve, or become a prey to the ever watchful wolf ! "

Mr. Long gives an outline of an encounter between two bull moose that may be compared with my own experience, both with reference to the locality where these fights take place and the struggle itself.

Far up on the mountain-side the sharp, challenging grunt of a master bull broke out of the startled woods in one of the lulls of our exciting play. Simms heard, and turned in the bow to whisper excitedly : "Nother bull ! Fetchum of Dev'l this time, sartin.' Raising his horn, he gave the long, rolling bellow of a cow moose. A fiercer trumpet-call from the mountain-side answered; then the sound was lost in the crash, the crash of the first two bulls, as they broke out upon the shore on opposite sides of the canoe.

" We gave little heed now to the nearer play; our whole attention was fixed on a hoarse, grunting roar — uh, uh, uh ! erryuh ! r-r-r-rank-unk ! — with a rattling, snapping crash of underbrush for an accompaniment. The young bull heard it, listened for a moment, like a great black statue under the moonlight, then he glided away into the shadows under the bank.

" The larger bull heard it and came swinging along the shore, hurling a savage challenge back on the echoing woods at every stride.

" There was an ominous silence up on the ridge where a moment before all was fierce commotion. Simms was silent too; the uproar had been appalling (vide ` with head erect to bellow forth those terrible sounds '), with the sleeping lake below us, and the vast forest, where silence dwells at home, stretching up and away on every hand to the sky line. But the spirit of mischief was tingling all over me as I seized the horn and gave the low, appealing grunt that a cow would have uttered under the same circumstances. Like a shot the answer was hurled back, and down came the great bull—smash, crack, r-r-runk! till he burst like a tempest out on the open shore, where the second bull with a challenging roar leaped to meet him.

" Simms was begging me to shoot, shoot, telling me excitedly that ` 01' Dev'l,' as he called him, would be more dangerous now than ever, if I let him get away ; but I only drove the canoe in closer to the splashing, grunting uproar among the shadows under the bank.

" There was a terrific duel underway when I swung the canoe alongside a moment later. The bulls crashed together with a shock to break their heads. Mud and water flew over them (vide the dust and decayed vegetable matter whirl once more in a dense cloud) ; their great antlers clashed and rang like metal blades, as they pushed and tugged, grunting like demons in the fierce struggle. But the contest was too one-sided to last long. 01' Dev'l had smashed down from the mountain-side in a frightful rage, and with a power that nothing could resist. With a quick lunge he locked antlers in the grip he wanted; a twist of his massive neck and shoulders forcing the opposing head aside, and a mighty spring of his crouching haunches finished the work. The second bull went over with a plunge like a bolt-struck pine. As he rolled up to his feet again the savage old bull jumped for him, and drove the brown antlers into his flanks. The next moment both bulls had crashed away into the woods, one swinging off in giant strides through the cracking under-brush for his life, the other close behind, charging like a battering-ram into his enemy's rear, grunting like a huge wild boar in his rage and exultation. So the chase vanished over the ridge into the valley beyond; and silence stole back, like a Chinese empress, into her disturbed dominions."

A deer when started by a hunter, or driven by hounds, usually returns in a few days to the hill or mountain-side where he was first found; but a moose when thoroughly alarmed will start on a long, swinging walk, and, taking with him his entire family, leave for good. Moose-signs are unmistakable, and the marks where they have yarded show for years. The moose, while totally lacking the grace and ease of the movement of the deer, is appallingly grand as he stands swinging his immense antlers like feathers as he turns to catch a taint in the breeze. In the rutting season, when they are at their best, the body is rusty-black, and the legs grayish. The shoulders and broad chest show tremendous strength, and the hips are stout and clean-cut; but the great height of a moose is owing chiefly to his long legs and bristly mane. The nostrils in repose are in a collapsed state. The ears come above the horns, not behind, as is usually the case in mounted specimens. In the living animal the nose is a marvel of ugliness, and the surface covered by the olfactory nerves so great that it is doubtful whether there is any other animal whose sense of smell is so highly developed. Like most denizens of the forest, the moose relies far more on its scent than on its sight. The eyes are small and wicked, snapping and gleaming on the slightest provocation, and betray at once the ugly character of their owner. When captured young, moose prove most interesting pets, and become very tame. A gentleman in Toronto succeeded in training a pair of moose to drive as a team, and the distance they covered in a short space was something remarkable. In confinement they are dangerous from a trick they have of striking with their fore-feet, not straight out as a horse sometimes strikes, but first lifting the hoof almost perpendicularly above their head and then cutting forward and down, a blow that would tear a man nearly in two. A large bull generally weighs one thousand pounds, and sometimes they reach from twelve hundred to fifteen hundred pounds.

The moose is a local race of the elk of Northern Europe. Unlike other animals that live in these Northern temperatures it does not change its coat in winter to blend with Nature's garb as do the caribou, Virginian deer, etc.

Mr. J. Rowan thus describes the introduction to a battle between two bull moose:

" I was calling in a little barren or open space in the woods, and during a quarter of an hour of breathless suspense I could hear two bulls advancing toward me from different directions, and both so near that it was a toss-up which would come first. At last one fellow came out into the open, and stood defiantly awaiting the approach of his rival, whom he could plainly hear rampaging through the neighboring thicket." On another occasion he writes : " A wounded bull charged me repeatedly, in a most determined but rather blundering way. Fortunately I was in the woods, and had no difficulty in avoiding his attacks by dodging round the trees. Had it been in the open, I might not have fared so well."

The call of a cow, which the hunter imitates through a horn or trumpet made of birch-bark, is a series of grunts or groans winding up with a prolonged, dismal, and rather unearthly roar, which in calm weather can be distinctly heard at a distance of two or three miles. One peculiarity of the moose is that for a great distance he can go straight to the spot from whence the call proceeds, even after a considerable time has elapsed, and without a repetition of the sound to guide him; and hunters, after failing in their call during the previous evening, have known a moose come straight to the place on the following morning. It is considered best to call from a canoe, as many moose are lost by crossing the hunter's tracks. They walk at the rate of four miles an hour, even in woods so thick that it is hard to understand how they get their horns through. They carry their heads high, noses well up, and horns thrown back. The horns have been known to measure six feet. In July these horns are soft, but in August they rub off the velvet against the bushes, and in September they are in full bloom. The cows have generally two calves in the month of May, which remain with their mothers for one year and then go off on their own account.

The moose is about the size of a large horse. The head is very large; snout and ears, long; neck, short, with a thick mane. Horns spreading into a broad palm; tail, short; the color is blackish-grey. The teeth are white; horns brownish-yellow, the extremities of the prongs becoming yellowish-white. The eyes are black; nose, forehead, and upper lip, yellowish-fawn; inner surface of the ears, yellowish-white; outer surface, grayish-brown. Sides of head, yellowish-brown. Hairs on the appendage under the throat, black; lower lip and chin, dark .gray, formed of a mixture of black and white hairs.

Major Smith, who was a close observer and naturalist of considerable attainments, says:

" For us, who have the opportunity of receiving the animal in all the glory of his full-grown horns, amid the scenery of his own wilderness, no animal could appear more majestic or more imposing. It is, however, the aggregate of his appearance which produces this effect: for when the proportions of its structure are considered in detail, they certainly will seem destitute of that harmony of parts which in the imagination produces the feeling of beauty. The Quadrupeds of North America (Audubon and Buchman) contains the following: ` They feed on the water-plants, or browse upon the trees fringing the shores. In the winter they retire to the dry mountain ridges, and generally " yard," as it is termed, on the side facing the south, where there are abundance of maple and other hardwood trees upon which to feed, either by browsing on the tender twigs or peeling off the bark from the stems of such as are only 3 or 4 inches in diameter.' "

Although moose swim well, they are not known to dive; they swim with the head and part of the neck above water, like cattle. When pursued in boats they frequently attempt to upset them, and at times open their mouths and make a loud snorting noise, striking at the same time with their forefeet, and occasionally sink the canoes of the Indians or hunters. Upon one occasion, a young man going fishing, and having his fowling-piece, on turning a point of the lake, saw a large moose in the water and fired at it with shot, tickling it severely. The moose at once made for the canoe; and whilst the alarmed fisherman was attempting to escape, his boat became en-tangled in the branches of a fallen tree, when he was forced to give up the canoe and get away as he best could; the animal on reaching the boat completely demolished it. Unfortunately the females are sometimes killed when they are with calf. They do not generally make any noise in the woods, unless when provoked, but in captivity they utter a plaintive sound.

Mr. Frederic Irland writes:

" The camp was on the Crooked Deadwater by the side of a beautiful stream at the head of a great river. Just across the narrow waterway one of the grandest mountains in New Brunswick rises sheer and dark, a great pyramid of eternal verdure, which in the winter is the feeding-ground of hundreds of moose. It was into this inviting camp that we stumbled long after dark, scaring a little moose out of the small clearing, not 200 ft. from the cabin door. The frost came down and cracked the trees that night till they popped with the cold, and the sound was like a skirmish of rifles. The next morning when we awoke there was a thin glaze on the snow, and when we walked abroad it was like treading on innumerable panes of crackling window-glass. We heard three different moose get up and run when we were a quarter of a mile off. We climbed the mountain for an hour. Then we came to the tracks of two moose, fresh that very morning. The footprints were not extra large, but the broken twigs on two trees showed where a pair of antlers had scraped on either side, and I could scarcely touch the two trees at one time with my outstretched hands. Moose with big horns do not always have large hoofs.

" `They lie down about this time in the morning,' said my guide, and after a while, over the top of a fallen tree-trunk, I saw the mane of a great, black animal. The old fellow had not seen us yet. He swings his great horns just a little, the steam rises from his broad nostrils. Lazily he winks his eye. I can see every hair upon his back. Carefully I push the camera above the prostrate tree-trunk, first brushing the snow away with my hand. Tick, goes the shutter and the great beast is getting up. The antlers swing, he rises two feet at a time, like an ox, hesitates an instant, as a moose always does, shows the little symptoms of fright so familiar to those who know the habits of the moose, and then goes down the mountains like a runaway locomotive."

Mr. Irland's remarks about the frost attacking the trees recalls one of my own experiences in 1890. The sun was still shining in the skies, though the wind had become very cold and penetrating. Occasionally, as the temperature fell lower and lower, there would sound from the depths of the wood a startling noise, like the crack of a rifle, and I felt my heart throb tumultuously with excitement. As evening approached these cracks became louder and more frequent, until a roar, as of artillery, echoed through the forest. These tremendous noises resulted from the frost attacking the giant trees.

" The broad valley and mountain banks of the Klondike," writes Tappan Adney, " are an admirable feeding-ground for the moose. The temperature in winter is exceedingly cold and crisp, but the snow-fall is light, and by reason of the intense cold the snow does not settle or pack. There is so little wind, especially through the early part of the winter, that the snow accumulates on the trees in strange and often fantastic masses, giving the landscape, especially on the mountain-tops, the appearance of having been chiselled out of pure white marble. On account of its lightness, the snow is no impediment to the long-legged gaunt moose, which is not obliged to ` yard ' as in more southern deep-snow regions, but wanders at will from valley to mountain-top in search of the tender twigs of willow, white birch, and cotton-wood. The Indians surround the moose in its feeding-grounds, and as it runs, one or more of them is tolerably sure of a quick shot."

The moose in this neighborhood has long been the main support of the Indians, and in their household economy no portion of the beast is wasted. To quote further:

" The hides were brought indoors, the hair was shaved off, and all the sinew and meat adhering were removed by means of the sort of chisel made of the moose's shin-bone. The skin was now washed in a pan of hot water.

The tanning of the hide by the squaws is done the next summer. The various portions of the moose were divided among the village. One family got the head, an-other a slab of ribs, another the fore-shoulders. The shin-bones were roasted and cracked for their marrow; the ears, though nothing but cartilage, were roasted and chewed up ; the rubber-like muffle, or nose, and every particle of flesh, fat, or gristle that could be scraped from head to hoofs, were disposed of. Even the stomach was emptied of its contents, boiled, and eaten."

Though I have included the moose among the big game of Muskoka, having frequently come into personal contact with it, yet I should consider that the State of Maine was " the sporting paradise " for moose. . . .



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