This may be an old friend of mine. I got a call recently from PBS. They asked to use some of my photos of the moose skeleton next spring on one of their educational programs called DragonFly. Look for me and SugarMtnFarm.com in the credits. The irony is I don’t have TV so I won’t see the show. Still, it’s pretty cool! First Wife Swap and then PBS all in one month. :)
Our dogs originally showed me the dead moose over on Sugar Mountain back in the winter and I got photos before the carcass was fully cleaned by the wild animals. When the bear of Bear Ridge, up behind our house, woke in the spring he went over and had breakfast. I saw where he had dragged the hide and part of the hind quarters while they were still fresh frozen. His den is up the hill from our house and downwind of the moose’s final resting place so he probably got a good nose full when he first awoke and went looking for something to fill his empty belly.
The moose was a bull moose, as you can tell from the horn attachments on the skull above. Based on the size of the attachments I suspect he was getting along in years. It may have been Melvin, a moose we knew who was born the same year as our son making him 14 years old now. The last time I saw Melvin, as he ambled up the south field road, his shoulders stood over 6′ and his antlers brushed the tips of the low lying maple branches that were higher than I could reach.
Vermont hasn’t had moose hunting season in our county for a very long time so the animals have had a chance to grow big. This year I’ve gotten quite a few calls from people who wanted to moose hunt on our land which was my first alert to the fact that this area has gotten opened up to the moose hunt. The answer is no. I don’t object to hunting in general but I see no need for someone to come in after a trophy on an animal I enjoy seeing so much.
I know Melvin was alive last fall because we saw him on our way home one evening. As we were headed south along the eastern slope of Sugar Mountain we saw the north end of Melvin trotting away from us down the road. He ambled along at about 30 miles per hour for roughly half a mile before turning left at the sugar shack and heading down to the marsh. He was in his fully glory with a spread of antlers that looked like they were as wide as our mini-van. Very impressive.
One negative of Melvin, like any bull moose, is he had antler itch. Every year as his new antlers got big enough he needed to rub off the velvet coating. To do this he tore into the trees. Some of them he knocked right down. We would hear him across the marsh rubbing some tree and then crash, down it would go. When he didn’t knock them down he would strip the bark right off. Moose are as bad as skidders on a bumper tree.
Another thing that some forest folk don’t appreciate about moose is they browse the regen. Regen is the new growth of trees that is replacing older trees in both clearings and the forest. For every tree that grows to maturity there are hundreds to thousands of regen saplings and they provide good food for the browsers like deer and moose. Where the moose have browsed it can be very dramatic because all the young trees are nibbled off at the same height. Because of the ice storm of 1998 we have a lot of regen in some sections. This has provided excellent forage for both Melvin’s folk and the deer. I’ve been seeing more moose and deer as a result of that. We lost about 150 acres of maple forest in that ice storm – in time it will grow back.
Folk lore is that the moose’s favorite tree to browse is striped maple which is known as moose maple around these parts. It is a softwood and considered junk maple in forestry because it does not grow straight and tall, is soft and often breaks or splits. They have a lot more moose maple further south as it likes a warmer climate. We see a little here. Moose maple is easily distinguished from the hardwood maples by the reddish stripes on the saplings and the much larger leaves. It does not make very good lumber or bonfire weenie roasting sticks but perhaps they taste sweeter to the deer and moose.
Melvin, if that was who it was who died last winter, did not get taken by a human hunter as no bone was missing and the head, the trophy, was there. He died too late in the season to still have had antlers to interest a sports hunter. As you can see from the photo they fell off naturally rather than having been hacked off. I suspect he merely died of old age. There was plenty food in his belly when he died. At 14 or 15 years old he was getting up there according to the Animal Diversity web site at the University of Michigan.
When I went back in September to collect his skull I found the bones scattered over about a 100′ circle. Nature had reclaimed his body. All that was left were some bones and occasional pieces of skin and hair. The bones are amazingly light weight for such a big animal. They sound hollow and are much less dense than comparative pig or cow bones. I would have guessed they would be harder to support his immense weight.
If it was Melvin, I’ll miss him. I knew him since he was a knobby kneed little calf tight to his mothers flank. Our driveway was a path Melvin and mother used to get down from the mountain to the marsh below us. We watched him grow into an adolescent and he watched us back. Over the years he brought his two lady friends to our house and the fields around it. I trained our livestock guardian dogs to give a simple alert bark and not bother him and the other moose as opposed to the deer who we want them to keep out of the gardens. Once in the morning I found sleeping marks in the snow just up behind our house that showed where they had slept not 20 feet from Tika, mother to Hagrid and others of our dogs. She had said not a word although I’m sure she knew they were sleeping next to her as she lay curled in her preferred spot up on the snow covered hill.
The cycle has closed for one moose but rolls on for the rest of us.