With my two dogs—Mr. Magoo, an American bulldog, and Molly, a mastiff/Catahoula mix—in the back of my hatchback, I pulled into the Dudley Creek trailhead in Gallatin Canyon. Not quite a mile down the trail, Molly wandered off in the underbrush and I had Mr. Magoo on a leash (I’d recently adopted him from the Humane Society). The starlings were chattering and Magoo was behaving surprisingly well, when Molly darted across the trail in a mad dash as the earth began to shake. The bushes to the right parted and an enormous animal thundered into view.
My brain instantly registered that the animal was too tall to be a black bear, too bovine to be a grizzly, and too moose-shaped to be a heifer. Since I’d never be able to outrun a moose, I sought refuge—but the only nearby cover was a sapling the width of my forearm and I didn’t even have the chance to get to it before the cow moose was on top of me.
My body and the moose’s shoulder connected. As I fell to the ground, she spun and stomped her plate-sized hoof down between my legs. She spun again, away from me this time, as Mr. Magoo lunged through the air and landed on the moose’s back. The huge ungulate scrambled for footing, eyes rolling with fear as the 80-pound dog—small against her broad back—snarled, fighting tooth-and-claw to hang on.
Regaining balance, the moose leapt away and Magoo—whose leash was still wrapped around my wrist—was dragged to the ground. The mama moose retreated to her calf, but refused to leave. Likewise, Magoo refused to back down. The moose stamped the ground with her massive hooves, circling and snorting, while Magoo growled and mirrored her path, keeping himself between me and the angry animal. Regaining my wits, I started throwing rocks and yelling until the moose finally trotted off, baby in tow. After taking several minutes to calm Magoo down and find Molly, I set a record pace back to the trailhead.
With only a bruised wrist and scraped shoulder, I was remarkably intact. Did Magoo save my life? All I know is that he ate steak for dinner that night, and he’ll always hold a special place in my heart. As for the majestic moose, they too deserve a special respect. Montana continues to amaze me with the diversity of wildlife, the rambling wilderness—and how near-death brushes with moose are only moments away.