Moose in Colorado and the San Juans

Bull Moose
Moose in Colorado mostly are not just visiting or there by accident. Until 20 years ago Moose were very scarce in Colorado. Colorado Parks and Wildlife decided that Colorado should have a moose population, even a large one, and not rely on a few stray moose wandering into the state from Wyoming. In the late 1970s Colorado’s wildlife managers audaciously transplanted a dozen moose to the state from Utah. This started a string of moose transplants over the next decade. Moose really liked Colorado. In the early 1990s some members of a thriving moose population in northern Colorado were moved to southern Colorado. More moose from Wyoming and Utah were added to these habitats. With the state’s moose population in the thousands, limited hunting was allowed in certain areas of the state.
Wild Moose Grazing
Some people will be surprised to learn that Moose actually are the largest deer. They don’t look like deer. Their body is covered with black or very dark brown hair. They have a very large head with a “bell” of skin hanging down from the jaw. Very long legs enable them to wade into lakes and eat plants off the bottom and paw through deep snow to reach food in winter. Bulls range to more than 9 feet long (plus a couple of inches of tail) and can stand over seven feet tall. Their antlers might way over 50 pounds. Moose live in small groups, not herds, They often live in forested areas and close to lakes and marshes. Moose rarely leave their home territory during winter. Very territorial, Moose will defend their space and can be aggressive if they feel threatened.
Majestic Bull Moose

Where to see moose? There’s no guarantee of moose sightings in the San Juans. However, between Silverton and the ghost town of Animas Forks, a wonderful area of beaver ponds teaming with trout, many species of ducks, beavers, a moose might be seen somewhere along a forest road in the early morning and evening. In these hours moose forage for food, might even be playing in the water or crossing the Animas River heading up into the San Juan Mountains. Rarely visitors see big bull moose battling for dominance. Rare moose sightings have been reported in South Mineral Creek, just west of Silverton. From late-August to mid-October, moose (as well as deer and elk) are in mating season. Visitors looking for moose are recommended to keep a safe distance and not to bring along dogs. Moose view dogs as wolves and go after them. No one wants to be run over by a 1,200-pound moose.

In winter “ungulates” (large mammals with hooves) in the San Juans tend to hang out at lower elevations where there’s less snowpack and they can forage on grasses. In addition to sightings by tourists engaged in wildlife viewing, thanks to their reintroduction decades ago, moose provide an abundance of big game hunting opportunities in Colorado. Tens of thousands of hunters try to kill moose each year. Moose enthusiasts will be happy to know that hunters only manage to kill between 200 and 300 a year. Colorado’s moose population numbers close to 4000, three times the number just 15 years ago.

Moose rarely wander into towns along the San Juan Skyway but deer, especially during hunting season, seem to have figured out that towns are the safest places to hang out. No one seems to be surprised by huge bucks swaggering down the streets of San Juans’ towns or making backyards their resting places or homes. A black bear has been sighted wandering through Ouray. Local folks think it lives somewhere in Box Canyon. In fact the Colorado Division of Wildlife has published a very detailed flyer on “Bear Proofing Your Home” and “Teaching Bears That They Are Not Welcome.” Probably because wildlife viewing is popular in Ouray, moose, deer and elk are seen year-round, black bears in autumn, and bighorn sheep on the rocky cliffs above town are often sighted during winter months. Welcome to the San Juans – nature’s playground!