A bull moose was shot to death by an Anchorage police officer Tuesday evening at Kincaid Park during a middle school cross-country race with hundreds of kids participating, including the cop's daughter.
Jared McKay, a 16-year Anchorage Police Department veteran who works as a school resource officer at Goldenview Middle School, was standing between the moose and the trail where kids were running. The moose charged as a pack of runners ran past the animal on the Lekisch Trail, not far from the tunnel in the park's stadium area.
The moose had been lying near, but not on, the trail. It was one of four or five moose that adults had been keeping an eye on during the cross-country race, which featured about 400 seventh- and eighth-graders from six middle schools.
"He was just laying there, watching things, when a blur of runners, a pack of five to eight girls, came through in a group and kinda got him going," said Andy Duenow, a parent who witnessed the charge and the shooting. "He jumped up and charged toward the trail, and the officer was very professional; he pulled off three quick shots.
"... None of these (moose) were displaying any kind of agitation until that last minute. He happened to charge the wrong guy in his case -- the right guy in our case."
McKay said he fired three shots from his 12-gauge shotgun, which he got from his vehicle after learning some of the moose were acting aggressively. The first shot, a Brenneke slug, hit the moose's forehead, but the animal continued to move toward the runners, McKay said. The second shot, also a slug, hit the moose in the chest and punctured either the heart or a major artery, he said.
That's when the animal turned away from the trail and started to walk away. McKay fired once more, this time with buckshot, and hit the moose in the shoulder. The moose walked about 50 feet into the woods, where it died."By the time I fired the second round, he was almost to me," McKay said. "I was standing between the moose and the girls. I was standing there the whole race. I planned on him not getting to the girls."
Duenow said shooting the moose was "absolutely" the right move.
"If you don't take him down, he runs right past the officer and into a group of 13- and 14-year-old girls," he said.
Paul Brown, a teacher at Hanshew Middle School who also witnessed the shooting, said much the same thing in his statement to police.
"Afterwards I paced off the distance from the trail to where the moose stopped his charge," Brown told APD. "I saw the blood in the bushes about 20 feet from the trail. That moose was 20 feet from plowing into a crowd of people."
McKay's actions, Brown said, "probably saved a child from death or serious injury."
The moose was shot around 5:15 p.m., during the third of four races involving students from Mears, Goldenview, Hanshew, Wendler, Gruening and Girdwood middle schools.
Soon after the shooting, hundreds of runners of all ages started arriving at Kincaid for the popular, city-sponsored Tuesday Night Race Series. That race, which drew 1,167 runners, started at 6:30 p.m. but did not follow the same course as the middle school run.
About 20 moose populate Kincaid Park, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Jessy Coltrane of Anchorage. Fall is their rutting, or mating, season.
"We're right in the middle of the rut so there are a lot of moose in Kincaid and they're busy right now," she said. "And so this is the time of year where we do have moose charging people and things, because it's full-on mating season."
Coltrane said she was off-duty when the shooting occurred. Police were in touch with Fish and Game about the matter, and it was the police who were in position to decide what to do, she said.
"It's their call," Coltrane said. "They're there."
The moose meat was given to charity, police said.
Scott O'Brien, the supervisor for Kincaid Park, said there were a few moose stompings in the park this summer but none of the animals were killed.
Margaret Timmerman, the race director for the Tuesday Night Race Series, said animal encounters are common at Kincaid.
"We're always concerned about moose encounters and bear encounters," she said. "At the beginning of each event we talk about being aware -- be aware of your surroundings, be aware of moose, be aware there are bear out.
"It's unusual if someone doesn't see an animal. That's what's unusual."
In fact, Timmerman said, an hour or two after McKay shot what was described as a giant bull with antlers measuring 50 inches, Tuesday Night Race Series runners in the Munchkin Division -- the division for little kids -- encountered a moose on the Mize Loop.
"They did the right thing," she said. "They stopped running, waited for the moose to move away, and kept on running."
Matt Novakovich, an avid runner and biker who was at Tuesday's middle school race watching his son run, said he encounters moose at Kincaid all the time. He remembers counting 16 moose while on a training run at Kincaid back when he attended Dimond High in the early 1990s.
"My typical protocol is, I'll break off a branch of alder and hit the trees with it, and usually they'll move," he said.
Duenow said middle-school race organizers delayed the race by 10 minutes to make sure all of the moose were a safe distance from the trail.
"There were five separate moose they were dealing with after the course was set up," he said.
One bull was near the starting line, and a handful of adults were watching it, Duenow said. Four others -- the big bull that was killed, two cows and a calf -- were on the Lekisch Trail about a half a mile away from the stadium tunnel, Duenow and McKay said.
The two cows and calf crossed the trail and went into the woods before the race started, "so they were out of our minds," Duenow said.
After the junior varsity girls raced past, the big bull moved toward the trail.
"We kinda guided him across the trail and he kinda sauntered across and he laid down about 15 yards off the trail," Duenow said.
The seventh-grade boys raced past, and the moose remained still.
"And then the varsity girls started and we were all excited, because all (the moose) has to do is lay there for another 20 minutes and we're home free," Duenow said.
Then the lead pack of the eighth-grade girls race arrived, and the bull jumped up and charged. McKay, positioned between the moose and the runners, was ready. He said he was sure nobody was behind the moose.
"That's why I placed myself where I was," he said. "I had no doubt in my mind there was no human life behind him in all the trees and brush."
Duenow's son, who had already raced and was watching with his dad, saw the charge and the shooting. So did a couple of kids standing uphill on the trail, watching the race with their parents. Other than that, the only students on hand when the moose was shot were the half-dozen or so running past when it all happened.
"The handful of girls who were right there were obviously like, 'Aaah!' and there were eight or 10 of us standing there, and we said, 'Keep running,' '' Duenow said.
Most of the students didn't learn a moose had been killed until after the race, he said.
On Wednesday, runners from Anchorage's other middle schools were back at Kincaid for another race.
About an hour after talking to the Daily News about Tuesday's events, Novakovich, who coaches the South cross-country team, was also back at the park. A moose charged him and another coach on a side trail from where about 25 high school kids were running.
"It was running 20 mph straight down the trail towards us," Novakovich said. "He was about 50 feet away when I thought about our conversation where I said I'd grab an alder branch.
"I picked up a stick as he was coming toward me and yelled at him and threw my stick down on the ground. Right when I did he veered off-trail and passed us, and then he got right back on the trail."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG