Mid to late September in the Adirondacks is marked by hints of bright autumn colors, a lack of biting bugs, the reappearance of the grayish-brown coat of dense winter fur on the white-tail deer, and the greatly increased chance of seeing a moose. Although moose are massive in size and might appear to be easy to spot, these giants of the Great Northwoods mostly confine their activities to densely wooded areas in which visibility is low and human travel is severely limited. Additionally, moose prefer to forage during periods of twilight, when their chocolate-brown coat causes them to blend into a dark background.
Around the time of the autumn equinox, moose experience an awakening reproductive urge. This powerful drive often causes individuals to abandon the setting in which they routinely forage and begin to seek out members of the opposite sex. While these long-legged beasts are known to travel a dozen miles or more during a single morning or evening when on the search for food, moose periodically wander much further in the weeks between Labor Day and Columbus Day as they try to locate breeding partners.
The male moose, or bull, is especially prone to travel as autumn nears. The female, referred to a cow, advertises her presence by emitting special scents and by bellowing out a loud, blatting-cry. It is believed by some naturalists that the massive rack of antlers supported by a bull helps him collect sound energy and reflects auditory waves toward his ears. This amplification system atop the bull’s head allows it to detect the drawn out moan of a cow several miles away. Upon noting this unique noise, a bull immediately homes in on the origin of the sound and begins to travel in that direction. However, despite the long legs of this creature, it may take a bull several hours or more to arrive at the area from which the sound originated. A bull may also pick up a scent trail left by a cow, and like a bloodhound, will follow it, regardless of the fact that the scent may be several days old.
In areas where moose are considered to be fairly numerous, such as in the vast stretch of wilderness just to the south and west of Indian Lake, or in the stretch of land that runs between Loon Lake and Mecham Lake, it is not uncommon for two bulls to cross paths as they search for a cow. Even if there is no female in the immediate vicinity, the bulls initially engage in a contest of posturing in an attempt for one individual to establish dominance over the other. If neither animal relents, they eventually attack one another in an intense pushing match. If a female happens to be nearby, the contest becomes more intense, as the winner gains the right to service the needs of the cow that is most likely nearing her heat period. While antlers are useful in amplifying sound, the primary purpose of these solid boney structures is to serve as a weapon for battling rival bulls. The “Forever Locked” exhibit that will be on display this year at the Great Adirondack Moose Festival in Indian Lake depicts the physical struggle between two powerful bulls in the wild.
If you plan on attending this fun-filled community event to learn more about New York State’s largest form of wildlife, please drive carefully, especially around dusk and dawn when moose are most inclined to travel and are the hardest to see. One can all too quickly dart from the woods onto a road before a driver can slam on the brakes. Again this year, there will be a moose calling competition for those who wish to demonstrate this unique, backwoods talent. If, however, you plan on imitating the call of a cow in the hopes of drawing a bull to your location, exercise the utmost caution, as these animals are currently functioning with large amounts of testosterone in their system, making their behavior anything but predictable. A bull, having heard the call of a cow, is going to want to find a female at that location, not a person exercising his/her nature skills.
The moose is the most impressive creature to see in the wilds, and the community of Indian Lake will be celebrating the increased chance of viewing one of these creatures. Come and join their celebration.
Photo: One of many Adirondack moose, this one spotted on July 16, 2012 at Helldiver Pond in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest. Photo courtesy Linda Bohrer Erion.