Moose coming out of the water after a swim.


Moose are Loose!

Where can I see a moose?
According to Washington State Fish and Wildlife there are at least 400 moose living in the state. Nearly all live in the northeastern counties of Pend Oreille, Stevens, and Spokane. Occasionally, moose are spotted in the northwestern and north-central counties of Whatcom, Okanogan, and Ferry, and a wanderer or two has been seen in other areas. But the only significant populations are in the northeast's Selkirk Mountains that range into Idaho and British Columbia.

Over the years, moose have been spotted near Wilbur, Keller Ferry, and at the top end of the park near Kettle Falls.

How big are they?

As the largest member of North America's deer family, the moose (Alces alces), they are dark brown and long-legged with massive shoulders. They have prominent muzzles with an overhanging upper lip, and a large flap of hair-covered skin that hangs beneath the throat called a "bell."

Adult males or bulls have broad, flat, antlers that look like palms or hands, tipped with a number of points, depending on age and health. Antlers are shed during the winter and regrown each spring.

Washington's moose belong to a subspecies called "Shira's" moose, which is physically smaller than more northern moose. Adults can measure nearly six feet at the shoulder! A bull's antler spread can be as much as 6-1/2 feet across. Bulls weigh between 850 and 1,100 pounds and adult females or cows weigh between 600 and 800 pounds.

What about moose families? Are they social?

Moose tend to be loners, except for cows and their calves. Breeding occurs in the fall and single or twin calves are born in June. Yearling calves often live with their mothers until the cow drives them off to give birth to a new calf. Some yearlings regroup with the family several weeks after birth and remain with the cow for up to two years of age.

Do they have enemies? What about bears?

Black bears and cougars are the most common predators of moose calves in Washington. In areas where wolves and grizzly bears are more abundant, they are the dominant threat.

What do they eat?

Generally moose prefer forested habitat where lakes, marshes, and other wetlands provide them with aquatic vegetation and willows. But in less wet areas, like northeast Washington, they also eat the woody browse in early stages of regrowth following disturbances like fires, logging, and clearing. Moose are a pioneering type animal and adapt to a variety of available forage.

With its great size and food demands, the home range of the average moose in any given season is about three to six square miles, although they wander much further.

Stay safe around moose!

Most people seem to like moose because they're so different. They don't spook or shy away from us as readily as deer, appearing more docile or even curious. But remember: anything that big can be very dangerous!

Actually moose, like any wild animal, can feel threatened by and fearful of people. Although with their long legs they could outrun us, they are not built for speed like deer and will often choose "fight" over "flight" to escape a situation. A charging moose often kicks forward with its front feet, knocking down the threat, then stomping and kicking with all four feet. Antlered bulls can use their racks just as lethally.

Check out this big bull moose wading a stream in Glacier National Park!

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An early riser, this bull moose wades through the waters of McDonald Creek right off the Going-to-the-Sun Road.


What should you do when you see a moose?

Give any moose you see lots of space. If you're hiking in the woods, get out of the way in whatever way works -- back off, change directions, and enjoy the animal only from a distance.

This is especially important during the winter for snowmobilers and skiers because moose travel on broken trails to save energy.

Be especially alert around cow moose in late May and throughout June since there is a good chance a newborn calf is around. If you see a calf and not a cow, be extremely careful moving out of the area; you may have walked between mother and baby, which is probably the most dangerous place to be.

What else should I know?

While enjoying the outdoors in the fall, be alert for bull moose in the breeding season. The peak of this "rut" is generally late September and early October, but it can extend from early September through late November. Cow moose can be aggressive at this time, too. Although these animals aren't focused on you at this time, give them a wide berth to avoid being mistaken as intrusive competition.

Pets and moose!

Keep all dogs confined in moose country. Moose consider dogs, which are close relatives of wolves, to be their mortal enemy. They have been known to go out of their way to kick at a dog, even one on a leash or in a fenced yard. If you see a moose where you live, bring dogs inside. If you're walking with your dog and see a moose, keep your dog quiet and take an alternate route out of the area. Never hike or camp with dogs in moose country.

Moose don't like cars - true fact!

If you are driving and come upon a moose standing or walking in the road, yield to the moose. It may be trying to rest or save energy, and if you try to move it, your motor vehicle could come under attack. If you are driving at night in an area that is frequented by moose, slow down and be extra cautious -- a collision with a moose could be fatal for both of you.

If a moose wanders into a suburban or urban neighborhood where it will have trouble wandering out because of traffic and other human congestion, contact WDFW's Spokane office (509-456-4082) for assistance. Meanwhile, confine dogs and other pets and keep children inside and quiet. Give the moose ample room to move out of your yard. Don't block escape routes or allow others to do so. Draw curtains on large glass doors and windows so that moose don't mistake them for an escape route.

One more thing, one more time

Do not approach any moose, even if it seems quiet and gentle. Moose often lay down in the shade of buildings and trees to rest and cool down. If approached repeatedly, even by the best-intentioned onlookers, it may become stressed and aggressive. Enjoy the visitor from a respectable distance. Use binoculars and telephoto camera lenses. Be patient.

Never feed moose. Moose that are fed by people often become aggressive when they are not fed as expected. They may attack another person who has no food to offer. A moose with a history of unprovoked attacks on people may have to be killed to protect public safety.

For more information about the wildlife of Eastern Washington, visit the Washington State Fish and Wildlife website.

Last updated: March 30, 2021

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