Living With Wildlife in Moose Country
Moose at a Glance
It may be hard to believe, but until 20 years ago hardly anyone ever saw a moose in Colorado, let alone hunted one. That’s far from the case today. The state's moose populations are thriving, thanks to successful reintroduction efforts by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Until the late 1970s, only a few stray moose would wander into northern Colorado from herds in Wyoming. These strays were probably just transient animals seeking new habitats, but they never came in large enough numbers to establish a stable population here. Biologists think moose might have been expanding their ranges slowly southward and may have established themselves in Colorado on their own. Wildlife managers and biologists, however, decided to give the moose a boost in the right direction.
In 1978, Colorado wildlife managers arranged for the first transplant of 12 moose to Colorado’s North Park region near Walden. These initial moose came from Utah, and, in 1979, another dozen from Wyoming were released in the same region, in the Illinois River drainage. This early population reproduced quickly, and some began to move into the Laramie River Valley. In 1987 a transplant of 12 moose from Wyoming helped establish a strong population in that valley as well.
Before long, North Park’s moose population was doing so well that some were moved to the upper Rio Grande drainage. Between 1991 and 1992 about 100 moose from Wyoming, Utah, and North Park were released in southern Colorado near Creede.
Since the transplants, our moose have thrived and expanded their range into good habitats. Colorado’s moose population now approaches 3,000 animals statewide. Their numbers have grown so dramatically that limited hunting is offered in North Park, Middle Park and the Laramie River area. Not only do the moose provide recreational opportunities for sportspeople, they have also become a main attraction for all who enjoy watching wildlife. In recognition of this wildlife phenomena, the state legislature designated Walden as the "Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado" in 1995.
Unfortunately, having more moose around can present a challenge to motorists. Read how you can be a safe motorist in moose country.
Size - Colorado’s Shiras moose (Alces alces shirasi) are Colorado’s largest big game animal with adults weighing 800 to 1,200 pounds. Bulls stand up to 6 feet at the shoulder.
Coloring - Their rumps are brown, not white or cream colored as found in deer, elk, or pronghorn. Their body hair is grizzled dark brown, appearing black at a distance, and they have white hair on the inside of their legs. Their legs seem too long for their bodies. Their thick, dark brown coat appears black at a distance, and enables them to stay warm in the coldest winters.
Shape - Their long head, overhanging snout, and a pendulant flap of skin of varying sizes hanging from their throat ("bell") give moose an unmistakable silhouette when observed in the wild. The bell varies in size and is much larger on bulls.
Antlers - Bull moose grow flattened, palmated antlers with points around the edge, reaching up to 5 feet wide in larger and older bulls. These antlers are shed in early winter and re-grown each year. Yearling bulls sport small spikes or small plates, with antlers increasing in size as the bulls mature. Antler conformation varies considerably, and it is not uncommon to see a bull moose, especially a younger bull moose, with antlers similar to those of an elk.
Mating and Breeding
The breeding season, or rut, begins in mid- to late September and runs through October.
Bulls begin breeding activities by setting up territories, and attract cows by calling with a low grunting sound that resonates across the willow bottoms. Both bulls and cows are aggressive during the breeding season, with bulls often fighting head to head until the dominant bull drives off, injures, or even kills the challenger.
Cows give birth in May and June. Twins are common in good habitat, and triplets have been documented.
Moose may live for up to 20 years in the wild.
The term moose comes from the Algonquin Indian word meaning "eater of twigs," and the most common place to find moose is where there is lots of brush for them to browse on.
Moose have long legs, which allow them to traverse deep winter snows and thick willow habitat types. In spite of their size, they often go unnoticed as they spend a great deal of time in heavy, dark cover in willow bottoms and forests.
Moose can be found in sagebrush, high in the mountains above timberline, as well in the more traditional willow, aspen, pine, and beaver pond-type habitats.
Moose are more likely to live in riparian (areas located along rivers, streams, and lakes) habitats with willows, which is their primary food source. They also do well in drier habitats of oakbrush, mountain mahogany, aspen and sagebrush.