Cordova Chronicles: Don’t let moose lick your car

With the moose rutting season in full swing, salt was the last thing on this bull’s mind as it went splashing past my duck blind in late September. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

Moose are big news in Cordova. Between state and U.S. Forest Service hunts, over 80 were harvested on the Copper River Delta this year, providing several hundred pounds of meat to countless local households.

Moose make the news for other reasons. Recall my recent feature titled “What a hunter won’t do for a moose,” describing a Cordovan who spent four days on a scaffolding hoping to spot a moose, only to have someone drive up and shoot one in the very area he had been scanning.

Then there’s my Feb. 9, 2019 column headlined “Just who has the biggest moose of all?” describing a humorous competition between Canada and Norway over which country had the biggest moose statue.

Norway’s 33-foot reflective steel “Big Elk” in Stor-Elvdal barely topped Canada’s Mac the Moose, a regal 32-footer located, quite naturally, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

The Canadians were not graceful losers, calling the outcome “a load of bull.”

One has to give them credit for that rather cheeky response, given that they lost by a foot. At least they didn’t call in lawyers to challenge the outcome.

Undaunted, Canadians are making moose news again, this time for digital road signs stating, “Do Not Let Moose Lick Your Car.”

Officials in Jasper, Alberta are asking motorists to avoid allowing moose to lick salt, a necessary part of their diet, off their vehicles. Moose can find the mineral in Jasper National Park salt ponds, but have discovered that when drivers pull off the side of the road to watch them, they can walk up and lick it right off these cars.

The salt deposits come from road salt used on icy winter roads, which is splashed on the cars while driving in slushy conditions.

The concern is that the moose will become accustomed to being around cars, posing a risk to both the animals and the drivers who might collide with them.

Alaskan drivers know all about moose accidents. An average of 700 moose per year are killed in collisions, typically at night.

The moose are driven to the edges of the highways in search of browse during deep winter snows.

Locally, collisions with moose are fairly rare, partly because there isn’t much highway. However, many years ago an Alaska Airlines 727 jet did run into a moose with its nose gear while landing at the Mile 13 airport. That resulted in the fencing now visible around its perimeter.

Even more rare are bear and vehicle collisions. But Alaska Air made national news recently when one of its 737’s hit a brown bear while landing in Yakutat.

Yet more bizarre was a salmon — jet collision in Yakutat. An airborne eagle dropped a salmon while trying to avoid an Alaska Air 737 during takeoff. The airborne salmon, of unknown species, smashed a cockpit window, forcing the plane to immediately return to the airport.

For many years, moose made it part of their routine to loiter along edges of the Copper River Highway. Back the late ’50s, when they were first transplanted to the Delta, Cordovans would drive out the road with packs of carrots and stick them out their car windows to feed the moose, which had become accustomed to such attention while being reared in a block-wide fenced area where Mt. Eccles Elementary School is now located.

Many of those pen-reared moose were given names, and were well-known when spotted out the road. There was considerable angst when their naiveté proved fatal in those first early hunts.

The moose herd now numbers around 600, and none of them have names.  Moose permit applications to be drawn for next year’s hunt have been flying out of envelopes posted on the outside of the USFS office doors, as the building is closed due to the pandemic. State applications have to be completed on-line.

Moose hunters do crazy things, but it seems unlikely that any would consider spraying their trucks with nearby Orca Inlet salt water before heading out the road when the next moose season opens.

And baiting with carrots is not only illegal, it would likely baffle today’s nameless herd.

But rest assured moose will once again be big news when the calendar turns to Sept. 1, 2021, and another hunting season is underway.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at shorn@gci.net.