Attention dog owners: Summit County’s randy moose and elk add more than just sexual tension to trails
More than 30 minutes had passed since I’d last seen my dog Ike.
Off the leash, he usually stays within eyesight on our morning walks, unless he gets distracted, and even then it’s usually not more than 10 minutes before he checks in.
That barking couldn’t be him, I thought.
Half husky, half malamute, he’s only really barked a handful of times in his five years. But then the last time I’d heard him bark for any length of time, he had darted off into the night and came back with a mouthful of porcupine quills. With that in mind I started to run off trail toward where the noise was coming from.
It was midmorning, so a porcupine seemed unlikely. My mind wandered. Earlier in the year a bear had been in our garbage, and a neighborhood moose had wandered through the area on a few occasions.
The barking got louder.
Memories of conversations with state wildlife officials came to mind.
A moose’s natural predator is a wolf, and they will try to stomp or charge a dog if approached.
The barking stopped.
Then I caught a glimpse of a large antlered bull elk running up the mountain, with my dog not far behind. My shouting had little influence, and they disappeared into the forest.
With rutting season in full swing, “elk and moose can be very aggressive,” warned Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer Mike Porras. “The bigger concern is moose.”
Typically, he said hikers can shoo away elk if they encounter them on trail, and elk tend to be wary of humans. Moose, on the other hand, don’t have a fear of humans or pets.
“They’re not spooked by humans. They consider dogs as predators,” he said.
While national forest areas in Colorado do allow pets to be off leash under voice command, unless otherwise posted, Porras cautions hikers to keep dogs on leash at this time of year in case of a chance interaction. National wilderness areas also require dogs to be on leash at all times.
Wildlife are more active around dawn and dusk, said Elissa Knox, a county wildlife manager.
“I’ve known elk that attack dogs. It’s not as common,” she said.
Both Knox and Porras said elk typically are more reclusive and generally avoid human contact, especially in hunting season. But Porras pointed toward accounts in Estes Park were elk have come in close contact with humans.
He also mentioned an incident in neighboring Utah in September. A number of news outlets reported the story of 31-year-old shepherd, Hugo Macha, who was attacked by a bull elk in the mountains east of Moab. He was gored and knocked unconscious, and one of his lungs was punctured in the encounter. When he came to, he had to walk a few miles before he could find help.
While dangerous elk encounters are rare, they do happen, Porras said. “An elk certainly could respond to a dog.”
He also warned of another policy that hikers may be less aware of. Colorado law states that a law enforcement or wildlife official can shoot any pet that is chasing wildlife.
“It’s not something any of us want to do,” Knox said. Enforcing the law is at the discretion of the official on scene.
Elk vs. Ike
Close to two hours had passed and Ike was still nowhere to be found. I crisscrossed trails and headed in the direction the elk had run. All I found were occasional elk tracks, but with melting snow and other foot traffic, I was unable to follow them.
After driving to a different section of trial, I thought I heard barking again.
Again I found elk tracks, this time grouped just off the man-made trail. There were a number of tracks in a small clearing, but no indication as to where they led. And with a number of tracks from other hikers and their pets, it was hard to distinguish which might be the right ones.
My mind wandered and frustration turned to worry. Other trail users said they hadn’t seen either an elk or a husky.
The elk encounter occurred near the Frisco side of the Peaks Trail, close to the Mount Royal trail network. Knox said that it was unusual for an elk to be in such a high-traffic area. Moose, however, are often close to popular trails. She also warned of coyotes near Breckenridge. She said she has received a number of reports of them in the area and warned that they can attack pets.
As I knelt over trying to make sense of the jumble of tracks, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. Without making a sound, Ike appeared just a few yards away. Clearly exhausted from some kind of adventure.
“This time of year, I recommend keeping pets on leash,” Knox said.
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