By Michele C. Hollow for Pet News and Views
The signs along the road alerted us to watch out for moose. It was dark, and we were weary. After driving almost four hours on I-95 from the Sebago Lake region of Maine, we reached the town of Millinocket, a base for visitors to Baxter State Park. With one more mile to go, a moose appeared about a foot in front of our car. It calmly looked at us, while we perked up. Gently trotting in front, it led us to a fork in the road with a sign pointing to Twin Pines Cabins–our destination. It looked at the sign, looked at us, turned her head toward the cabins, and then gave us one last look before departing in the opposite direction.
We reached our cabin giddy from our first moose sighting. The animal was slightly bigger than a full-grown deer. Moose can be as long as 10 feet and reach up to 7 feet at the shoulder. This one didn’t have antlers, so we guessed it was a she. (Only the males have antlers.)
The moose are used to seeing people and don’t seem to mind having their picture taken. Still, our guides warned us that the animals can be skittish. When they get nervous, their eyes will move in different directions–one clockwise, the other counterclockwise. They have terrible vision, but their hearing and sense of smell are excellent.
Our moose tour was organized by the New England Outdoor Center (NEOC). We were scheduled to take a three-hour trip via pontoon, a flat-bottomed boat. Unfortunately, it was raining, so we went by air-conditioned van, which picked us up at Twin Pines (the boat and van hold up to 12 people). Our guides, Mark and Nick, are from the area and know it inside out. NEOC also runs six-hour and overnight wildlife tours, but with an 8-year-old, my husband and I thought three hours would be just fine.
Moose sightings are guaranteed. NEOC’s web site states that “if you don’t see a moose, the next tour is on us.” Nick had eagle eyes and could spot moose across a lake or hidden in the bush. Our first sighting on the tour was of two heads bobbing up and down in the Penobscot River. The rain started to let up as we got out of the van to view the moose taking a swim.
Most of Maine’s moose–there are approximately 40,000 of them–are less than 14 years old, but some live up to 25 years. The moose we saw were kind of scruffy-looking, since they were still shedding their winter coats. Most are a rich dark-chocolate color.
The best months for moose-spotting are May, June, September, October and December. In July and August, prime sightings are likely to be early in the morning or late in the evening. September and October are the best months to see full-antlered males. They shed their antlers in November and December, in preparation for growing new ones in the spring, and according to our guides, many hikers come to Maine to search for the castoffs. Some antlers have even been sold on eBay. Antlers are large and impressive. They’re made of bone–not horn–and are as distinctive as our fingerprints. They can have up to 30 tines (spikes), which are showy and useful for attracting mates.
Moving onward, we saw other moose in the distance, and were lucky to encounter one up close by the side of the road. We stood silently, just a few feet away. My son asked a few questions; the moose looked up, and, sensing that we weren’t a threat, went back to his supper. We watched him eat for a while, amazed at his size and shape: long, curved nose, bulky body and long, thin legs that hardly seem able to support all that weight (males average 850 to nearly 1,200 pounds; females, 600 to 800 pounds).
As we toured the area, our guides stopped to show us some rapids (NEOC also hosts rafting and fishing tours). In addition to telling us a bit about the area, they suggested that to blend in with the locals, we should talk like Mainers: “Tell everyone you rolled the roads for swamp donkey.” That’s local for “I went on a moose tour by van.”
If Your Go
Our log cabin at Twin Pines was large and equipped with a wood-burning stove, a small kitchen, full bathroom, two full-size beds and bunk beds. NEOC’s moose tour leaves from Twin Pines. For more information, call 1-800-766-7238.