Moose Photography Guide
Moose are definitely not at the top of the food chain, but they are the kings of the forest. No animal in North America stands on all legs as high as an Alaskan Moose including you. Vou will never forget being close to a bull Alaskan Moose as they tower over you standing over seven feet tall. Talking to many photographers Moose are at the top of everyone’s list because for most people they are the illusive mammal that never comes close. There is nothing like photographing a rut from start to finish, and my goal is to help you be successful this fall. When you are photographing Moose during the rut both timing and location are critical for success as well as understanding Moose behavior.
Timing and location are two critical components you need to focus on if you are targeting the Moose during the rut. A common myth about Moose are the ruts depend on weather, but this is not true. From personal experience as well as information from the National Park Service observing moose first- hand the rut happens the same time each year independent of the weather. The only important factor is the length of the day that is constant year to year. Therefore, different geographic locations have different rutting time frames. For example, my location in Alaska peaks normally in the second week of October and by the end of the month the rut is practically over. However, in the Lower 48 ruts are still going strong in some areas through November.
Finding a location prime for Moose is difficult, but using maps and looking foot tracks will help you to find a good area. When looking for a Moose location they need a fresh water source, like streams in Alaska/ larger bodies of water. On Google Maps, I would look for old mature forests, some sort of water source, and with a clearing around the water source like high grasses indicating a wet area where the Moose like to feed. My favorite place to look for is a valley with a stream running through it. This will allow you to climb above the tree line and see if moose are feeding on the grasses and vegetation along the stream. If you have never spotted moose before look extremely thoroughly because when they are bedding down in the long yellow- colored grasses their antlers blend in extremely well if you are not used to spotting them. Because Moose are most active for photographers during sunrise and sunset, during the middle part of the day the biggest indicators to look for are their defecation as well as tracks.
In general, animal behavior is one of the most overlooked skills to know as a wildlife photographer. When you are able to use an educated prediction of where the Moose is going/ what the Moose behavior is saying about its actions will allow you to either position yourself for the best angle and keep you safe around the giants.
Knowing basic Moose behavior will transform your photos from but shots to head on intimate portraits. During the rut, if you see a cow then chances are there is a bull around keeping his tabs on her. When the cow is engaging in feeding the bulls will follow the cow around trailing them. As a general rule, you do not want to get between a bull and cow in most areas because they will see you as competition for their special someone. However, if you have aggressive Moose you can use camouflage to get the best angles that will allow you to photograph behavior like flaring of the nostrils.
Photographing Moose sparing should be on your list as a wildlife photographer because the whole ‘dance’ between two Moose all the way to the moment of hearing the sound of two racks colliding is memorable. There is a difference between sparring and fighting. Sparring is safer to photograph, happens more often, can be between 2+ Moose, and usually involves one walking away/ lightly running with no chase. Fighting on the other hand is dangerous to be around, often involves injury/ possible death, one bull will chase the other even after one retreats.
The biggest indicator two Moose are going to fight is when both are swaying gait, which is tilting of their heads side to side like a sea saw. They will do this slowly approaching the other not really in a direct line, but a roundabout manner. You can observe their ears completely flat against their head with their eyes fixated on the other Moose. Most of the time while your adrenaline is pumping and you think about all the awesome photos you are about to take one of the bull Moose decides to run away from the other and as your excitement diminishes.
Your number one goal should be to never endanger your life during the Moose rut. I am lucky to have a location where Moose do not see humans and coexist. However, most places in the world Moose during the rut will charge humans as they are filled with testosterone. I have never been charged by any Moose because all you have to do is pay attention to their behavior because most of the time they will let you know how they are feeling. When you are with a Moose always watch their ears. When they lie them completely flat against their head, different than just moving their ears to listen behind them, the animal is stressed. Another key indicator indicating stress is their hairs raising on the back of the Moose/ spine.
Moose can be stressed by a number of things like you, or another bull around. You should use your common sense here and if there is another bull walking at them they clearly do not care about you. However, if they point their body at you and are making eye contact walk away.
The biggest problem animals I have found over time for most species revolve around young bulls as well as cows with their calf. Young bulls after they get chased off by another mature bull are always aggravated and is not worth the risk. These bulls always have their ears flat against their head after a fight and I do not want to fight them next. Another danger is accidentally getting between a cow and a calf when walking in the woods. Moose are especially protective of their young and will do anything to protect their calf from a threat.
I have personally never been charged by a Moose, however I have seen other people/ their dogs chased and the first thing you should do is run. Moose can run as fast as 35mph and I have seen them rip trees out of the ground the size of your neck when fighting other bulls. If you think a small group of trees is going to protect you, then good luck. The first thing you should do is run. Moose are not predatory towards humans and after you create a distance between you and them they will stop their pursuit towards you.
When you are photographing a sparring session they normally end with one bull running away from the other in the direction their head is turning. If two Moose are fighting head to head and the one starts to win by pushing its opponents head slowly towards its but the bull will follow its head in the direction it runs away in. This varies fight to fight, but small sparring sessions normally end in a similar fashion. Enjoy my drawing.
Overall, photographing Moose during the rut is one of my favorite opportunities because they display so many behaviors like branch thrashing, chasing cows around, fighting... My favorite experience is spending so much time with some of the bigger bulls that they will even come up to me and sleep fifteen feet in front of me sitting resting their large rack on the ground only waking up if another bull decides to ruin the nap session.