Pretty much everyone who drives up the Gunflint Trail would consider it a pretty good day if they spied a moose along the way. But sometimes vehicle/moose encounters are exciting for all the wrong reasons: locked brakes, floundering moose, muttered curse words . . . . As you might imagine, vehicle collisions with 1000+ lb moose don’t end well for either of the involved parties. While hopefully you’ll just walk away with a damaged (if not totaled) vehicle, sadly, it often the moose is injured to the point of needing to be dispatched moose.
Just last night, Andy and I encountered a total of five moose within a two-mile stretch when driving home, so we figured it was high time we pass on some tips to make sure your next “up close and personal” with a moose isn’t too up close and personal.
Exercise special caution driving the Trail in the winter and at night
While you could run into a moose on the Trail any time of day or season, moose are crepuscular meaning they feed at dawn and dusk and are thus most active when it’s the absolute hardest to see. It seems like moose/vehicle collisions always ratchet up in the winter and while you might point to slippery roads as the leading factor in those crashes, we actually had the most moose accidents in recent memory on the Gunflint Trail a couple years back during a stretch in late November and early December when the road was completely snow and ice free. So if moose/vehicle collision occur even on dry pavement, what was the one common denominator in those crashes? Darkness. While you’d think you’d never miss a massive animal like a moose if it was hanging out right in front of you, moose’s dark coats allow them to hide in the shadows of your high beams with surprising ease.
Slow down on curves and the crest of hills
I’m not sure what moose mommies and daddies are teaching their kids, but they certainly aren’t spending those precious childhood moments teaching moose babies not to play in the road. Moose have an uncanny penchant for hanging out like massive specters at the very worst places on the road. In an effort to deter moose from their middle of the road antics, the highway department doesn’t salt the Gunflint Trail except in extreme circumstances, but there’s still something about low visibility spots on the road that moose seem to find irresistible. Although 99% of the time there won’t be a moose lurking in the middle of the road when you come around a corner, you’ll be so happy you slowed down that one time your headlights are reflected back at you in two glittering moose eyeballs.
Know your high-traffic moose areas
Sure, the entire Gunflint Trail is moose country, but there are two very distinct locations on the Trail where you’re more likely to encounter a moose on the road. If you’re driving up the road, exercise particular caution once you cross the South Brule bridge until you reach the East Bearskin Road and again from the Mayhew Road until the Loon Lake Road. When driving in those areas, be on the lookout for fresh tracks and drive cautiously until those tracks appear to head off into the woods definitively.
Prepare for erratic behavior
Look, no one accused Bullwinkle of being the smartest critter in the forest. (See above critique of moose parenting.) If you encounter a moose on a roadway, you might be surprised by its behavior. Sometimes moose will take off for the ditch only to double back into the road just as you’re about to pass them. They’ve been know to weave back and forth across the road for several minutes or run for a couple miles straight in front of you before finding a break in the ditch they deem acceptable for them to use to head off into the woods. Be as patient as you can and let the moose do its moosey thing without doing anything that could stress the critter out, like honking or following too closely.
Wishing you all happy and healthy moose/vehicle encounters this winter driving season!