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Hairy moose attack on training run costs Iditarod team a wheel dog

Alaska Dispatch

Uncommonly thick snow in Southcentral Alaska this year means moose are all up in everyone's business, and scarce food has given plenty of them a short fuse. Trail and road users of all kinds have been encountering them with more frequency than usual, and mushers are no exception.

On her North Wapiti Kennels blog, Karen Ramstead, a four-time Iditarod finisher and former Red Lantern winner from Alberta, Canada, writes a gripping account of a moose attack she, handler Richard Todd, and two dog teams survived Feb. 16 while on an overnight training run near Willow in preparation for Iditarod 2012.

The way she describes it, the moose seemed to be moving away from them, avoiding an encounter. But really it was lying in wait, just out of headlamp range. When the two teams got within range, the moose turned and charged everybody, setting off a special kind of chaos:

I remember thinking "This isn't happening. This isn't happening" as she reached my dog team and her feet started flying. She was making no effort to avoid the dogs -- in fact, she was actively aiming at them. She came right between the leaders and stomped her way through the team. I saw her hooves connecting with the dogs and a couple yelped. I moved to the right of my sled and she thundered by on the left.

The noise she was making was the scariest thing I have ever heard in my life. It was a guttural, growling noise that sounded like dinosaur sound effects in low budget science fiction movie. Neither Richard nor I will ever forget it.

As she stomped through Richard's team she got tangled in his gangline and dragged his team into a huge ball. She paused for a split second and I yelled at Richard to get out of her way as she aimed her attack at his sled. He jumped into deep snow behind a tree as she went OVER TOP of his loaded sled, knocking it over and stripping the straw bag off.

Being Canadian and British, Ramstead tells the Anchorage Daily News, their first impulse was not to reach for a firearm, but they collected themselves enough to pull out a revolver and a shotgun they carried, loaners they'd been trained to use.

The first shot, a warning shot, just made everything worse all at once.

When all was said and done, Irving, a wheel dog, was the only casualty. He tore a quadriceps muscle in the attack and is out for the season, but Ramstead expects him to make a full recovery.

Read Ramstead's compelling first-hand account, here, and read the Anchorage Daily News's follow-up, here.