July 20, 2022

Did He Have to Shoot Mama Moose?

He didn’t have to shoot her.

I say that with all the respect and compassion for law enforcement. Living close to nature at high altitude where no one can hear the screams, I am grateful for their support and protection. They’ve protected us during the Cold Springs Fire in 2016, responded to calls for wayward transients with ill will in their hearts and malice on their minds during burn bans and high fire danger, and routinely put their lives on the line while accepting less than they deserve for pay.

They burden themselves with wearing bulletproof vests in a time in our culture when many lose their lives responding to mass shootings, and deal with the worst of human behavior.

I couldn’t be in law enforcement. I simply don’t have the psychological capacity. I don’t think many of us could.

That being said, I still don’t believe that the deputy had to shoot the mama moose defending her calf (yes) on West Magnolia. They say they didn’t know she even had one—to which I call foul—I’ve lived on these lands for 30 years, and in the past eight years since they’ve been showing up more prominently, every time I’ve had a near-death, hair-raising experience, it’s owing to a mama in defense of her calves.

I’ve spent more time with moose wandering around our mountain valley, browsing our willows, napping in our woodlands, and peering into our dining room windows than any textbook-trained, study-them-in-theory biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who I am fairly certain is sitting in a conference room down in Denver this afternoon, discussing an increase for moose hunting lottery draws this year.

Mother moose in defense of their calves are as threatening as chancing upon a Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone while backpacking. They are as formidable as they are devoted to their calves’ existence. Springtime is the time of year when calves are born, yearlings are kicked to the curb so that mama can tend to the new offspring after a 260-day gestation period, and anyone spending five minutes in the wilderness understands that they are more dangerous than the occasional Black Bear.

Did he have to shoot her? I don’t know, and I wasn’t there.

What I do know is what the rest of us already do—that lethal power at the ready is for one thing, and one thing only:


Say all you care to say about self-defense. How much of a chance did she have in the face of a firearm and man at the other end pulling the trigger? Could the deputy have found some other way to deter a 1,000-pound charging wild animal defending her offspring? Could he have moved the injured victims to a safer place and out of her awareness to render life-saving treatment?

How could any of us know when we weren’t there?

This afternoon, there is at least one calf—if not two—freshly orphaned, and unlikely to be weaned so early in their lives. They may become part of the victims lost yesterday in the wilds above Nederland.

We all can’t live close to nature or cultivate an understanding of what it’s like to change your dedicated dog path for an afternoon because a yearling moose is sleeping in your woodlands. But as we embrace these animals who were reintroduced to the land back in the 1970s in Walden, Colorado, we can learn that as we walk around our forests, there may be a mama moose standing in defense of her calves and browsing in the shadows of the pines.

I’ve come to say: I never do see them standing there.

Our own Lab-Shar-pei, Linus, was trampled in a moose-dog-moose tumble in our woodlands when we were surprised by her presence one morning in November 2016. Fairly certain she would put an end to his days, I screamed in horror and helplessness. After he emerged dusty but uninjured, I ran to our barn with my arthritic dog ambling closely behind and my other walking quietly to the house. I can still see her bulbous nose peering through the crack of the barn door, watching intently and clearly informing me that I had best stay put for a while.

Did he have to shoot her? I will never know.

And after living with moose in our mountain valley for more days than not these past eight years, I’ve never once loaded up a firearm in self-defense.


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