26 January 2012 2.00 PM – 4 F Cloudy
It’s the internet age and abbreviations abound. Sometimes us oldies think it is a conspiracy by anyone under the age of ** (insert the age when you began to think that policemen didn’t look old enough to have left school) to confuse and befuddle us, using gobbledy-gook when good old-fashioned English would undoubtedly suffice.
As dog mushers, we have our own set of code words that can sound like gibberish to anyone not involved. Amongst our group of friends here in Willow, we’ve also adopted another string of abbreviations for something has become an all too common occurrence this winter.
If you have children or ever were a child from any point in the mid 80s on, you’ll know what BFG stands for. For some, BFG is synomous with tyres (tires to some of you lot), for others it apparently is a big gun that fires balls of green plasma. Before the Department of Defence gets all twitchy, the BFG 9000 is only available in the game Doom. (at least according to Google anyway). But for most of us, BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant, the children’s book by Roald Dahl.
However, the letters BFM have a very different meaning for a group of us here in Willow, Alaska (and quite probably in many other places too). I’ll grant you that the B still stands for BIG. The G for Giant has been changed to M for Moose and the F, well, I guess in polite company it could be “freaking” but it’s generally accepted that the F means exactly what you think we mean it to mean. There is a further adaptation, BFMM and BFBM, which of course mean Big F%% Momma Moose and Big F**8 Baby Moose. One of the very important things to remember when you see a baby moose – and the term baby is misleading, a young moose calf can still weigh a few hundred pounds – is that where baby is, a very protective and quite likely grumpy, momma won’t be far behind.
Moose are generally accepted as being herbivores. They eat trees and green stuff. Ergo, in the winter their diet is a little harder to find. Add in the extremely large quantity of snow we have had this winter, and the moose are finding food harder to come by and also (a bit like dogteams) they tend to dislike wallowing in the self same deep, powdery, baseless snow. So, when they find that a nice fairly solid trail has miraculously appeared, they usually regard that as a much more preferable travelling route. Unfortunately, moose and dogteams don’t make good travelling companions. The dogs tend to regard the moose as something to either eat, chase or run away from and the moose are pretty much left with the original flight or fight instinct. Alaskan moose are the largest of the moose species and also, by common agreement, the meanest. There seems to be a bit of more of the ‘fight” instinct and a BFM, flaring it’s nostrils and pawing the ground with it’s rather large hooves is a sight not readily welcomed by many.
There have been a great many reported moose incidents on our local trails already this winter. These have ranged from the mildly interesting – ooh look, a moose in the trees – to the downright dangerous, a musher was actually kicked off his sled and stomped by a moose. There have been numerous occasions when a grumpy moose has taken the decision to charge a team and stomp up and down over all the dogs, causing injury, havoc and panic.
We have been fortunate so far. For the majority of the early part of the sledding season, when we were hearing about the carnage and trouble being visited on friends’ and neighbours’ teams, we were blissfully unhindered by Alces Alces on our travels. However, our luck had to turn, and it did one afternoon when we encountered 3 separate moose. Fortunately, each one of them were “runners” and apart from my heart beating slightly faster, and the dogs finding a previously hidden speed gear, we weren’t really troubled by the BFMs. Subsequently, we’ve met several more moose, with varying degrees of interaction. Happily, none have taken exception to our presence apart from a VERY large bull that tried racing our team to a clearing. Luckily for us, we had a groomed trail and he was swimming through chest deep snow. Once he realised that we were actually travelling parallel to him and not towards him, he stopped his efforts to find solid ground and settled back down into the snow.
It is occasions like that, that make you realise just how vulnerable we puny humans are, out in the wilderness. And, honestly, I really wasn’t that far out in the wilderness at all.
There has been a long running discussion going on about the different types of moose deterrents and their efficacy. Friends of ours had a closer encounter than they would have liked, last winter. The variety of things done to persuade moose to take the path of lesser conflict is a list that is imaginative, creative and as the ultimate last resort, violent. We have tried the second item on that list and was both pleased and surprised that simply yelling at the moose to get off the trail actually worked. The first step – mind projection – has never worked for me !
Sometimes, the moose are unwilling to give up the trail, perhaps simply being too exhausted to face another excursion into the deep snow. It is those occasions that offer the possibility of real conflict. Mushers will do what they have to, to protect their dogs and as difficult as it can be, will endeavour, when faced with an recalcitrant moose, to turn their team and find another route. That sounds a lot simpler to do than it actually is. Especially when the dogs in question are invariably screaming to be allowed to chase the big hairy meal in front of them.
And sometimes, the moose themselves have just had enough. Either they’ve simply met one too many dogteams that day, got out of bed on the wrong side, or are just one of those famous Grumpy, with a capital G, moose. Rather than leave the trail, or refuse to move, they decide to take the offensive and will charge. A scary sight to behold, with the ears laid back, and hooves flashing, 1500 pounds of meat and bone heading towards your precious dogs at a speed of up to 35 mph.
That’s when those moose deterrents have to become much more effective. And possibly deadly. Much time has been spent discussing the relative merits ( for the want of a better word) of firearms and grain of bullets. According to those in the know, it’s going to take at least a 44 Magnum to bring down a charging moose. Anything smaller and all you’re going to do, is wound and annoy it.
And so, that has now become part of our routine when getting ready to go on a sled run. A Mossberg pump action shotgun loaded with buckshot and slugs is attached to the sled and I carry a Smith & Wesson 44 Magnum revolver. With all our might, we hope and pray never to have to use either of the guns for anything other than practice and maybe making noise. But the consequence of not being able to protect our dogs, should the circumstances arise, is too dreadful for us to contemplate.