Coming face to face with a moose was the last thing Lyle Blais of Bangor expected while snowshoeing in Bangor’s Rolland F. Perry City Forest on Sunday, Jan. 7, but that’s what happened. In fact, Blais was able to spend a few peaceful moments with the creature before they went their separate ways.
A frequent visitor to the city forest, Blais started out his snowshoe trek at the Kittredge Road parking lot in Bangor that morning.
“I went out with plans to do my normal loop out to the old railroad bed and back, but the snow was so deep [that] I turned around once I got to the power lines,” said Blais, 29. “I had headphones in, listening to music, so I was somewhat oblivious to what was going on around me. I came around a corner and the moose was standing about 20 feet in front of me.”
The moose didn’t seem to be alarmed or afraid, he said. It just stood there and stared.
“I’ve hiked there probably a hundred times and have never seen evidence of a moose, so this was a nice surprise,” he said. “Although, I was a little nervous because I didn’t how how it would act towards me.”
His uneasiness is understandable. While many people admire and respect moose as one of Maine’s most iconic wild creatures, few people actually know much about the behaviors and tendencies of the species.
“I wasn’t really sure what to do,” Blais said. “I didn’t want it to be scared, so I just sort of watched and figured I’d grab a quick video. It was curious as to what I was up to and started walking closer to me. It was then that I slowly walked away and stood around out of sight so it could do its thing.”
In the video that Blais captured, the moose is walking through the forest near the trail, wading through deep snow.
“It’s OK,” Blais says in video, backing off the trail. “It’s OK.”
It’s unclear whether Blais is reassuring the moose or himself at that moment. The moose then turns away, takes a few steps in the opposite direction and stops to look at Blais once more. The video ends there at 43 seconds, then Blais put away his phone and snowshoed away.
According to Lee Kantar, moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Blais did good to keep his distance and walk away. While moose aren’t known for being violent, they can attack if they feel especially threatened. They can even rise up and strike with their front legs.
“The idea of an animal like a moose being actually aggressive, where it’s actually coming at you when you’re not that close would be awfully strange,” Kantar said.
“I think unpredictability comes when people get too close to wild animals — whatever that animal is,” said Kantar. “A red squirrel that you corner in your shed, it’s going to lash out at you and scare you. Make that out to be a 800 pound moose and it’s another situation.”
Kantar has plenty of first-hand experience with moose. He and other DIF&W biologists are currently in the midst of a five-year study that requires locating moose by helicopter, capturing them in nets, and placing radio collars on them. Then, in the spring, they use radio telemetry to relocate the collared female moose to see if they’ve given birth.
“There are times where we’re sneaking in [to the woods to find the moose], and we get busted,” Kantar said, meaning the moose detect them.
Some female moose will flee when they see the biologists, taking their young with them, while others will stand their ground. The biologists don’t take any chances. They retreat.
“That’s when we say that we’re ‘escorted’ out of the woods by the mother,” Kantar said.
Kantar also interacts with moose when called upon to remove them from populated areas where they might cause harm to residents and themselves. In October, for example, he tranquilized and removed a moose from Ellsworth, relocating it to a less populated spot.
“I’ve done a couple using a 12-foot pole [with a tranquilizer at the end],” Kantar said. “And I’m spending every second looking at the moose’s ears, eyes and haunches to see what it’s doing … Their ears are really key to telling if they’re calm or if they’re going to whoop your ass.”
If a moose lays back its ears, it may be a sign it’s going to get aggressive. But other signs can be more subtle, such as raised hairs on the moose’s neck, thighs and hips. But Kantar advises that people simply not get close enough to observe this body language.
“If they’re in the middle of where you want to go, choose another route. Turn around and go someplace else,” Kantar said.
While spotting a moose in the Bangor City Forest is rare, it’s not unheard of, Kantar said, and he hopes that the moose moves on to a less populated area. Just north of Bangor, in the woods of Alton, Lagrange and Howland, is a pocket of moose, he said, and there are also a few over in the Sunkhaze National Wildlife Refuge in Milford. In the meantime, if people see the moose in the popular Bangor City Forest, Kantar advises they “give it more room than they think it needs.”
“Just grab a pair of binos,” he said.
For Blais, the experience was an exciting one he won’t soon forget. Originally from southern New Hampshire, Blais moved to Bangor about six years ago for his job, and like many people from away, seeing a moose was high on his list of things to accomplish while in Maine.
“I’ve loved my time in Bangor and have done a lot of hiking all over the area,” Blais said. “The City Forest was my go-to for quick walks in the woods … I’ve been out there so many times, in all seasons, probably a little over 100 times.”
Blais will soon be moving back to southern New Hampshire for work, so it’s quite lucky he had this special wildlife encounter before waving goodbye to Maine.
“I am moving in a few weeks, so this was most likely my very last hike in a place I’ve grown to love so much,” Blais said. “Can’t ask for a better memory.”