By Joseph Robertia
Living in Alaska, residents get fairly used to living a little closer to nature than their Lower-48 counterparts. With that comes seeing more wildlife. But even with that expectation, Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, woke up to a spectacle Sunday morning that still made his jaw drop.
“Not too many places you can have a morning like that,” he said.
A moose in his yard doesn’t garner much attention. A bull with a nice-sized rack warrants more than just a glance. Two bulls with racks is downright noteworthy, and those bulls smashing their racks into each other calls for undivided, mouth-hanging-open attention.
The spectacle started slowly. Mensch, a dog musher, had just gone inside after feeding his huskies. Having a yard full of dogs is usually a good alarm of anything unusual, like an animal wandering through. But Mensch said that his dogs must not have seen the moose arrive that day, because they were quiet.
“When I came back in I looked out the window and first saw just one. I went to grab my camera and when I got back to the window both of them were there, sparring in what will (next year) be our garden,” he said.
As the two ungulates began rattling their antlers together, it did eventually draw the attention of the canines, but the bulls barely noticed. They kept at it, pushing each other back and forth for about five minutes. Then, with a winner declared, the two went their separate ways.
“I stepped out onto the deck to take the pictures. The dogs were barking a bit, as you can imagine. The moose did stop a few times and looked over toward the dogs. It was a lot less energetic than I thought it would be. It seemed as if the big one was more annoyed to have to deal with the smaller one, and the smaller one seemed to act as if he knew he would not win and did not want to get hurt,” Mensch said.
While neither was legal by hunting regulations, Mensch said that he wouldn’t have shot them even if they had been legal.
“I don’t hunt and don’t want to start at my age. I have enough to do with fishing, dogs, work and the house. Don’t need another hobby,” he said.
Both also had racks with multiple points that were still bone white and blood covered.
“I was wondering if their antlers were tender — they looked red, probably just lost the velvet,” Mensch said.
Jeff Selinger, area wildlife manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said that now is the time many moose are shedding their velvet, and the process may last a week or more.
“They can drip blood for a while,” he said.
According to Selinger, moose lose their velvet — the thin skin covering their antlers — when reduced daylight triggers hormones to kick in, which seal off the blood supply to the antlers. Moose will then rub their antlers to get the drying velvet off.
“They’ll rub it on anything to get it off — trees, bushes, dog houses, vehicles. We even get a few tangled in the swings of swingsets each year,” he said.
Still, he said, seeing two males sparring is not a common sight for most peninsula residents.
It’s not usually the type of thing you see in Kenai or Soldotna. We usually get calls of it from the outlying areas, like Sterling or Kasilof,” he said.
During this time when moose are sparring, and with the period of elevated hormones that follows, people should be wary of moose, particularly those close to home like the ones in Mensch’s yard.
“When you see them, give them plenty of space. Every bull is different, but at this time of year they’re sparring to establish territories for breeding purposes,” he said. “It’s only once a year they do this, so they take it pretty seriously.”