Spotting scopes, binoculars can help hunters recognize the distinctive differences between the two species.
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — As Colorado‘s big game hunting season begins, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is asking hunters to learn the difference between moose and elk in order to avoid accidentally shooting moose.
Almost every year moose are accidentally killed, according to the state wildlife agency. The most common error is mistaking a cow moose for a cow elk.
Moose are the largest members of the deer family and have adapted to a variety of habitats. They favor willows along streams and ponds. But be aware, some moose also inhabit lodgepole pine, oak brush, aspen, spruce, fir and even sagebrush – in other words, the same areas where elk live. Moose can be found in almost all the high-country areas of Colorado.
Elk hunters need to be sure to know the difference between these two ungulates. If a hunter without the proper license shoots a moose, the fine can be more than $1,000.
Wildlife officers say there’s no excuse for confusing the two animals. They are vastly different in size, color, antler shape and habits. A mature Shiras bull moose weighs 1,200 pounds, about twice as much as the average bull elk. Moose are dark brown and appear almost black. Elk are light brown — a bull elk can be almost golden — with a pale yellow rump.
A moose has a very large, long nose and a “bell” under the throat, compared with the relatively narrow snout of an elk. A mature bull moose also has broad, flat antlers, unlike the pointed antlers of an elk. But the antlers on some young bull moose have not flattened out yet, so hunters need to look over the entire animal before pulling the trigger.
Moose act very differently than elk, however, when approached by humans. Typically, moose will not flee like elk at the sight of a hunter, which makes them easier to kill. So if it sees you and doesn’t run, it’s probably a moose.
Despite these readily apparent differences, every hunting season brings a number of illegal moose kills. Circumstances vary from mistaken identity by hunters to blatant poaching. The common denominator in most accidental kills is that the hunter is not using optical aids besides the rifle scope. Always carry binoculars or a spotting scope to help you properly identify the species.
The first moose to reach Colorado – 12 from Utah — were planted in the North Park region near Walden in 1978. The next year, another dozen were released in the Illinois River drainage, also in North Park. Some of these moose moved into the Laramie River Valley and, in 1987, an additional 12 animals were brought in from Wyoming.
By 1991, the North Park population was doing so well that some of those moose were moved to the upper Rio Grande drainage near Creede. In 2005 and 2006 moose from Utah were transplanted on the Grand Mesa. In the summer of 2008 the DOW brought a few moose from Utah to supplement the small herd in the La Garita mountains south of Gunnison. The North Park herd has expanded southward to occupy habitat in Summit County, where their range also overlap with elk.