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Paradise for watching Alaska moose up close (+photos)

Rick Sinnott
A bull moose feeding in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Bull moose in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Bull moose sparring in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A female moose in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Bull moose sparring in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Bull moose sparring in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A large bull moose keeps watch over a group of four females in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A bull moose feeding in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A bull moose resting in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Two female moose in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A bull moose feeding in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A bull moose resting in Powerline Pass during the rut, or mating season. October 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo

Stock-still, the bull moose stood for 10 minutes, his brown eyes unfocused. Combat veterans call it the thousand-yard stare. “He’s downloading the latest version of moose rutting software,” John said.

It was early October. We were yards off the Middle Fork Loop Trail in Chugach State Park, a mile east of the Glen Alps trailhead. John Brown, a British wildlife cinematographer, was hoping for some action -- moose-rutting action. But there are long periods when watching a moose is like watching paint dry.

Finally, the bull, a magnificent specimen with antlers at least 60 inches wide, leaned forward, took six steps, locked his knees, and resumed the position. It was going to be a long morning.

Fortunately, the bull was surrounded by at least six paramours -- cow moose, a couple accompanied by calves -- and they were a little more animated. One cow was determined to keep the bull to herself. Several times she fixed a rival with a glare, stalked quickly towards the amorous hussy, moaning loudly in protest, and gave her the bum’s rush.

The bull was maintaining several rutting pits, shallow wallows pungent with urine. He was obviously tired, shell-shocked. He’d survived over a month in a moose’s equivalent of a singles bar and he had at least a couple of weeks more to impress the ladies.

The Middle Fork Loop Trail and Powerline Pass trail are the best places in Alaska to watch rutting moose. Much better than Denali National Park. And much closer to most residents. Sometimes a little too close.

I had to jerk my pepper spray off my belt and slip the safety off when the same bull, on a different day, started chasing a cow and stopped 10 yards from us to rattle his antlers in a bush. John said he’d never seen a large animal move so fast.

The moose aren’t going anywhere soon. Park at the Glen Alps trailhead. Walk about a quarter mile to the Powerline Pass Trail and glass for moose in the valley below. I’ve counted as many as 30 at once, but most of the moose are out of sight most of the time. Spend a little time walking the trails. Bring a camera. But don’t do anything stupid -- like trying to get too close or stepping between a bull and one of his cows. And carry a can of pepper spray.

Rick Sinnott's a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Rick at rickjsinnott@gmail.com