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Story ID:1700
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Only Here
Location:Broken Tree Ranch Montana USA
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by Kathe Campbell

“Whew . . . that was a close one,” the game warden and I uttered in unison. While the warden watched the mother moose and her injured calf cross slowly over the next ridge, he shook an uncertain head and whispered, "Well, did my best, sure hope the little feller makes it."

Last winter had been unusually dry and warm on our 7000 foot Montana ranch, far different from the almanac predictions. In fact, there simply hadn't been enough snow to snowmobile out the front gate with the lone exception of one week in February when the fall was wet and heavy.

It was during that week I climbed aboard my snowmobile to test out some new left-handed equipment. A few yards down the road I was startled to see a young moose grunting and flailing violently on our barbed wire fence. He was hanging precariously upside down by the pastern of one hind leg and appeared to be bleeding profusely. I was tempted to free the animal with my new wire cutters, but suddenly remembered our state's strict laws about civilians interfering with wildlife. Also, the youngster's irate mother had now appeared and I knew better than to step between a mother moose and her child. Therefore, I left a message with our local game warden who promised to come immediately.

Fence deaths are common amongst wildlife in Montana. Some animals are rescued, but frequently parents ultimately abandon their young and they are left to die. A lucky few are rescued by animal wardens and turned over to surrogates to raise and release. The youngster's leg looked so fragile I couldn't help but recall a very courageous cow moose who thrived on our well protected mountain for many years. One of her front legs had been shot off by some unscrupulous hunter, but somehow she managed to escape and did a fine job raising several calves.

I wasted no time closing the front gates, for Mrs. Moose indicated in no uncertain terms that she preferred I stay behind the fence and mind my own business. She pawed at the snow, snorted great billows of steam, then returned to her child's side. The youngster was becoming exhausted and was now on the perilous side of his battle. He was too spent to fight the wire and would soon be falling prey to the certainty of hypothermia.

It took our game warden 20 minutes to arrive and carefully maneuver the driver's side of his rig between the young victim and his frantic mother. Mrs. Moose would have none of it. She circled the truck around and around, bowed her neck and continued her dancing and snorting routine. At least we now had her mind pre-occupied. Having been appointed a surrogate parent I felt I was perfectly capable of assisting in this operation, but the warden wasn't about to put a me at risk. He was right, of course, but time was now taking its toll on the helpless child and I worried that his breathing had now become labored.

I watched the warden literally slither out the driver's door and plaster himself flat on the snow. The very moment mama moose returned to the opposite side of the truck he threw himself up onto the embankment. He snipped the two strands of wire in jig time and then flew back into his vehicle amidst incensed moose expletives. The youngster's leg seemed frozen in mid air, but after a few moments it slowly dropped to the snowy ground.

We watched as the mother all but nudged her child out onto the road and then proceeded to cross into the woods. After what seemed an eternity, the youngster struggled to his feet and stood on uncertain legs to gather his bearings. Mama reappeared from the woods, snorted one last time and, at last, the calf gimped along behind her over the steep bank.

'Twas just one of many times we had either participated in, or heard stories of gratifying animal rescues in our Montana mountains. The tales were repeated all winter long before camp fires and cozy fireplaces amongst friends and neighbors. As always, the snows vanished and our mountain came alive with the sights and sounds of spring's rebirth.

While irrigating in the east pasture recently, I was startled by an adolescent moose staring at me from beneath a huge lodge pole pine tree. He sported great ghostlike gobs of white underwear emerging from his ruff and over his back and flanks. The pine itself resembled a flocked Christmas tree, the lower branches serving as shedding limbs for this handsome young bull's molt.

After regaining my composure I whispered, "Well, hi there Bullwinkle, where'd you come from?" If he could have answered I'm sure he would have told me he was nearly two, his mom had a new baby, and he was now on his own. And as he turned and ambled off to graze, I noted a slight limp and a pronounced scar on his pastern.


Mama Moose and her youngin' making themselves home at Broken Tree Ranch.