This was the first and last time I went exploring without snowshoes for the day. Unfortunately, all I found for elk sign in the area was older tracks and some browsed areas, but all that indicated is they hadn’t fed in this area for a few days. To the north of this area (and just off the property), is a gentle slope facing south with a dense stand of cedars and conifers, the likely bedding area of the herd.
Heading back southwards throughout The Park, I stopped at an area that was trampled with moose tracks that I’d noticed on my way up north. Those are all moose tracks in the photo below:
Strangely enough, moose are continuing to “spar” well beyond breeding season. We have been seeing evidence of this on trail cameras regularly. The trampled area above looks like where one of the most recent matches was held. There were clumps of moose hair littered around this area.
This was definitely an area to do a little more exploring. With the sparring evidence and the amount of moose sign in the area in general, it was a likely place to find some antlers on the ground. I shedded a few layers of clothing; walking in snowshoes is much warmer than riding in the side by side. Not far from the trail I found a moose bed, and not far from that bed I found many others.
Within five minutes of getting into the bush off the main trail, something large, dark and moving caught my eye and there was a young bull moose running along the ridge just 50 yards to the south of me. Unfortunately I had too many layers on to dig my phone out for a picture but he was a beautiful young and healthy bull of maybe 2.5 years old. His antlers were still attached to his head, so it appeared that sheds were unlikely to be found until a bit later into the winter. It was also obvious to me at that point that I was in the moose “yard” as I’d seen maybe a dozen beds. While moose handle winter pretty well over all, there’s no sense in adding extra stress to the herd so I quietly made my exit back to the trail and made note of the yard location for future reference. I saw close to 20 beds before leaving this small area.
Heading southwards on the trail in the side by side once again I passed by the area where we’d recently made our “moose lawns” (topic for another post). I noticed something I had missed the first time…
Note the antler-rubbed tree with my glove on it for scale and also the tree that’s been knocked over to the left of that one. The tracks are all moose tracks in the picture.
Between the late season sparring and rubbing trees, both of which are generally pre-breeding season activity, my guess is that the moose are getting tired of carrying the extra weight on their heads and are now actively trying to knock their antlers off. Like an itch that you can’t quite scratch, they must become quite a burden.
The first half of the patrol was finished, with kilometre after kilometre of snow broken only by animal tracks. The second half of the patrol took me over to the eastern edge of The Park and the story was very much the same. Unbroken powder snow for long stretches only to be interrupted in yarding areas with meandering tracks everywhere. There wasn’t nearly the moose sign to be found while heading in this direction, although I did cross a few individual moose tracks. There were 3 distinct deer yarding areas along this length of road that I didn’t stop to explore. Deer are very easily stressed in the winter months and bumping them out of their yards expends precious energy stores and makes them more vulnerable to predation. Their yards were easy to identify by the smaller tracks concentrated near dense cedar stands.
No signs of human activity and plenty of signs of animal activity are the norm within The Park, but nothing tells the story quite like winter and a load of fresh snow. Plans are in development now to open up an abundance of winter opportunities. Conditions are much more harsh and there are times when you can’t be anywhere but next to a cozy wood stove, but there’s a magic about winter and the forest that is simply beyond comparison. When conditions allow it, get out and enjoy it!
Written by Greg Waudby, Land’escapes Park Operation Manager