True Tales: Raging Bull

Bull Moose, Madison River, Montana

True Tales: Raging Bull

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Ken Younger

A moose and an angler square off.  

It was a blustery afternoon in late October. The weatherman predicted that the sun and mild temperature early in the day would give way to late showers. It looked like he was right as the wind gathered enthusiasm and the sky darkened in the distance. Past experience told me that the dreaded counterclockwise rotation of these clouds could well bring whipping rain and intense lightning. So, the weather was on my mind as I changed flies to try “a couple more casts.” As I concentrated on my knot and the gathering storm, I heard some commotion in the brush. Mule deer, I assumed. I’d seen six of them up at the family cabin a little earlier. 

It wasn’t so. A big chocolate moose galumphed out of the willows on the path that I’ve worked so hard to maintain. She gave me a quick glance and immediately made a right-angle turn, going upstream at a trot. “Glad she went that way,” I thought. A second later, moose number two materialized on the path and without breaking stride made the river’s edge, and me, his destination. Bounding directly at me, he achieved the shoreline in an instant, making eye contact all the way. Like a cutting horse, he pulled up, front legs locked stiff, at the water’s edge, and we had a brief “Who’s going to blink first?” staredown.

I assessed the situation: a 900-pound moose with an attitude and a respectable rack. The attitude was bad and the rack was big. And me: knee deep in a stream in leaky waders, armed with a 4-weight fly rod, made of graphite.

I expected, hoped, the moose would turn and join his companion upstream. But it was not to be. He stood facing me with a Jack Nicholson Shining stare, and then charged straight at me with two or three galloping strides. This action plunged him into the water and put him exactly seven feet six inches from me. I know this dimension, because that is the length of my rod. I whipped the rod back and forth like a gladiator facing a hungry lion.

My other defense was to shout “YAH!” like the cowboys on TV who are trying to turn a cattle stampede. Although events happened rapidly, I had enough time to visualize the stomping that this lone-moose stampede was about to produce. Fortunately, my adversary backed up in retreat a few yards. We resumed the staredown. Before I could exhale, but not before I finished contemplating my imminent demise, he thrust at me with another charge, and I repeated my fly-rod-slashing response.

If I could read his moose expression, he seemed baffled by the maniac in the water. I was not what he expected. He backed up again and we locked eyes again. The bellicose ballet of advance and retreat repeated itself two or three times—I’m not good at math under pressure. Seven feet six inches is not much space between human and moose. 

After a final staredown, during which I addressed the beast in soothing, reassuring tones, he entered the river, this time at a walk. He didn’t charge, and continued to walk around me, heading to the opposite bank. Halfway across he hesitated, pausing to turn his head and give a final stare, presumably to ensure that Spartacus wasn’t coming after him for a graphite kill, or perhaps wondering if he should pulverize Spartacus after all. But, he resumed progress and went east. You can be sure that I went west.

I mounted my ATV warhorse and applied thumb to throttle, four wheels spitting gravel, as I charged away from the river to the haven of the cabin. Safe in the garage, I emerged from my Gore-Tex battle gear. Still pumped with an adrenalin rush, I wore a nervous, disbelieving smile under my fisherman’s hat as I went to the kitchen and made hot chocolate.

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