Yesterday the team did a back-to-back run, i.e. they ran 30 miles, came home rested for 3.5 hrs, then headed back out for another 30 mile run. The team looked great. So great that on the second run they tried to chase down a moose. For those of you not as familiar with the Alaskan moose, they are BIG and very ornery. Think 1500 lbs of pissed off ungulate towering 7 feet tall
The team and I were traveling down a trail called the intertie, named due to it running under the main powerline. The moose love it since willows grow abundantly in the powerline's razed underbelly. So I was unsurprised when my team caught a scent and began charging down the trail, ignoring my "Easy. Easy" command. This is generally a sure sign that a moose is in the area or has recently tramped through.
Scanning the thick darkness with my headlamp I saw no sign of the glowing eye orbs marking the presence of a moose. I figured all was well and my team was jazzed up by only a lingering scent. When, bam, a towering, massive creature leapt out of the thick spruce forest bordering the trail on our right shoulder. It barreled in front and over my lead dogs. It seemed more intent on getting away and less on standing it’s ground and trampling dogs thankfully. My lead and swing dogs, however, decided it would be a grand idea to dive off the trail to try to chase the monster weighing twice as much as all the 10 dogs combined. Quahog, in lead, even snapped at Mr. Moose's heals as he went flying by. With a sharp “Alright!” I got the team refocused and moving swiftly down the trail and away from Mr. Moose before he turned from fleeing to stomping.
I was extremely lucky. Numerous things could have happened in this situation. First off the moose could have clipped my leaders as he leapt by them. Sharp moose hooves are deadly when a moose decides to kick. Second, the moose may have been more irritable and decided to stand his ground. Imagine a 7-foot tall moose staring you down with his head down, ears back, neck hair bristled. That’s when you know you are in trouble. Generally when they have this posture you can expect them to charge you. If you are running a dog team, they will wade into the dogs kicking and stamping. When really pissed off they will go through a team numerous times and the musher is at their wits end trying to save their dogs lives. So like I said, the team and I were extremely lucky to have encountered a moose willing to flee and feeling less than ornery.
Most mushers I know carry a firearm to protect their team from moose threats. I carry a 20 gauge shotgun with slugs. Thankfully, I’ve never had to fire it at a moose, though I have had some tense moose encounters. If I were forced to protect my team and myself from a moose and ended up killing one, Alaskan law requires me to inform the state troopers and to clean and gut it. Alaska has a list where any moose killed gets repurposed as dinner for Alaskans signed up for the moose salvage program. This program is nicknamed the roadkill list since most moose killed are struck by vehicles on the highway.
End of the story, all the dogs were fine and thrilled to have “chased” down a moose. Me, the musher, was now very awake, nerves tingling with adrenaline. Thankfully the rest of the run was calm and without excitement.
Mushing in a nutshell: a sport of endless hours of nothing but dog butts interspersed with bouts of extreme terror