Don’t mistake a moose for an elk

Agency outlines differences for hunters

The broad, flat antlers of a mature bull moose are markedly different than an elk’s  pointed antlers. Size and color also are different, as well as the bulbous nose and “bell” under the throat of a moose. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of David Hannigan/Colorado Parks and Wildlife

The broad, flat antlers of a mature bull moose are markedly different than an elk’s pointed antlers. Size and color also are different, as well as the bulbous nose and “bell” under the throat of a moose.

Editor’s note: This is one of several articles from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to prepare hunters for the fall big-game hunting season in Colorado. For this and more stories, visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website at http://wildlife.state.co.us/NewsMedia/PressReleases/pages/pressrelease.aspx?PressId=7907.

By Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Reintroduced to Colorado nearly 30 years ago, moose are thriving in many parts of the state. Unfortunately, almost every year, hunters accidentally shoot moose. During the 2011 big game seasons, more than a dozen moose were killed by elk hunters who thought they were shooting at cow elk.

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 and hunting privileges can be lost.

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 any high-country habitat area of Colorado.

There is no excuse for mistaking these 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 and bulbous nose and a “bell” under the throat. An elk’s snout is much narrower and it has no “bell.” A mature bull moose 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 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 other optical aids besides the rifle scope. Always carry binoculars or a spotting scope to help you properly identify the species you are hunting.

The first moose to reach Colorado – 12 from Utah – were transplanted by wildlife biologists 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.

Moose also have been spotted in the San Juan Mountains.