According to one of our servers at the ultra popular pizza joint, Bonavista Social Club, a four-moose day in Newfoundland is just bad luck.
With all due respect to that young lady and the fabulous feta, ham and mushroom pie she delivered just before closing time, which you need to know is 8 p.m. on Thursday, we moose disagree.
Those ungainly ungulates, known in Latin as Alces alces, helped fill our Newfoundland bingo cards.
The first two greeted us at the head of the Skerwink Trail, which eventually affords a breathtaking view of the postcard that is Trinity, a tiny village on the Bonavista peninsula.
I immediately shot them. With a Nikon D90 equipped with a 55-300 mm zoom. They were grazing in a meadow and weren’t concerned with our presence. We were suddenly a little concerned with theirs, and the possibility that the big fellas might also be out looking for the 30 kilograms worth of plants and shrubs and whatnot that they eat daily, and might not be all that thrilled to see us. Not to worry, though. The hike was completed without another interaction. Unless you count the Japanese tourists who wanted to know if we found the trail by using GPS. We said, nope, MAP.
Another two animals appeared separately in the ditches along Route 320, as we made our way northwest to the island of Twillingate, where moose are found almost exclusively on menus.
“Every now and then one will make its way here,” said our helpful Hillside B&B hostess Wavey Cutler. “But they tend to disappear.”
Into the freezer?
Newfoundland’s five-year (2015-2020) moose management plan estimated the 2014 population at 112,069, excluding those in national parks. Other sources post figures between 115,000 and 125,000. And really, who has time to count them?
The government. That’s who. They said the moose population peaked in 1998 at 140,936.
The colony on the main island was seeded with just two moose — presumably one of each gender — in the Gander Bay area in 1878. In 1904, another two pairs were introduced to Howley. The plan was to provide an alternative to the island’s cod and shellfish stocks.
Because there is no significant predator — there are no wolves on the island and black bears will only occasionally tackle a moose calf — and there are no deer to compete for food, moose numbers grew quickly. So much that a bull-only hunt was introduced in 1935 in some regions of Newfoundland to get a grip on the expanding population.
That changed in 1953 when both sexes were fair game, almost 5,000 moose licenses were sold, and 1,540 moose were bagged, 998 of them females or cows as they are known.
By the 1970s, the population was declining and Newfoundland needed a moose management plan to protect the stocks. So they carved up the island into 10 moose regions and 36 moose management areas.
But moose can’t read management plans. Or road signs.
So the descendants of those original half dozen moose are a health hazard for drivers, particularly near dawn and dusk between May and October. The roads are another hazard, since the government will spend money on ‘Pot Holes ahead‘ signs but not on crews to fix said caverns. At any rate, motorists are cautioned to slow down in moose-heavy areas and are encouraged to phone a toll-free reporting line, or use a moose-tracking app. A recurring highway sign also keeps a running count of moose/vehicle collisions, known as MVCs.
The moose management plan estimates the annual MVC count between 500 and 600. There are five to 10 serious human injuries and an average of one human fatality. Most moose don’t make it.
So our server’s opinion is widely held, and quite valid after all. These massive animals can reach 1,500 pounds and put a dent in your vacation plans, and your rental.
The reminder made us more than a little glad that the Enterprise agent at St. John’s Airport set us up with a massive Chevy Tahoe, which gave us a fighting chance in any unscheduled meeting of moose and metal.
If you’d rather face Bullwinkle with the business end of a rifle, there are plenty of outfitters in the province offering fly-in hunting packages between $3,800 and $7,000. Their success rates varied between 90 and 100 per cent in 2015, and averaged 85 per cent according to information posted on the Newfoundland and Labrador government website.
One of those businesses is Newfound Outfitting. Here’s part of their spiel:
“Fortunately for moose hunters, the hunting season in Newfoundland coincides with the moose mating season or rut which runs from late September to early November. It is during this special time that our guides are often able to call a big bull moose to within easy rifle or archery range. The sight and sound of a big paddle horn bull moose coming through the brush looking for love is something that a hunter will never forget.”
Non-resident moose licenses can only be obtained through a licensed outfitter, and all hunters must be accompanied by a licensed guide to hunt big game.
That’s certainly one way for government to support an industry.
Hunters who bag a moose — and the management plan estimates the haul at 25,000 per year — have to declare the game at U.S. Customs and need an export permit to take them out of the province. The permits are free of charge from all licensed outfitters and at all Forestry/Wildlife offices.
You may have to dodge a few potholes to get there.