I’ll be heading to Vermont for a few days later this winter and am already putting together a list of the things I want to accomplish while I’m there. Actually, that’s a pretty generous way of putting it, saying “accomplish” as if I’ll actually be able to plan for success. But however you say it, I have some hopeful goals, most of which involve finding and photographing some form of wildlife.
Honestly, I’d probably go home happy if I was able to photos of anything more exotic that the typical backyard birds. Wintering waterfowl, game birds, foxes…heck, I’ll even settle for some shots of the local crow family. But what I really want, the opportunity that excites me most, is photographing moose.
In the last five years that I lived in Vermont, I had a half-dozen moose encounters, including my very first. Most of them seemed to be just dumb luck at the time, although looking back now I realize that it was really a case of being in the right habitat at the right time. But it’s lucky nevertheless, getting so see such an incredible, majestic creature in the wild. There’s nothing else like it. Sadly, all my encounters happened before I took up photography, leaving me nothing to show but a couple of dreadful snapshots.
Side note: I actually spent two hours sitting in my kayak in the back corner of a shallow pond one summer afternoon, due to a moose that wandered out of the woods and into the water to graze. It was standing neck-deep in the pond, right in the middle of the channel I needed to get back through. I’m not entirely sure if it knew I was there – moose’s eyes aren’t the best. But I wasn’t about to try paddling around her. The last thing I needed was a pissed-off moose trampling me into the mud. I’ve been charged by an irritated moose before and it wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat. Fortunately, she finally ate her fill and moved on. The whole experience was incredible.
Winter isn’t the best time to go moose spotting, since they tend to retreat to higher elevation forests. But I’ve got nothing to lose by trying, and know of a few likely places that might give me a shot at a sighting. The biggest thing I can do to improve my odds is research. It’s neither exciting nor glamorous, but it is effective. The more you know about your subject and its habits, the better your odds of finding them.
The internet is naturally my first resource: a few Google searches have turned up a good deal of information, including the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s hunting statistics. The only shooting I do is with a camera, but hunting info is actually quite useful. Hunters are required to report their moose kills, including biological demographics, number of moose seen in a particular area, and where kills were made. And if the hunters can find them, so can I.
Given the combination of factors (winter habitat range, limited access to the backcountry, potential for snow, limited time, etc.) I don’t have high expectations for coming back with moose photos. But at least I’ll be equipped with as much information as possible. The odds are slim, but anything I can do to hedge in my favor, well it can’t hurt. I’ll even bring muffins into the field, if it’ll lure the moose to me.