Three burly Wyoming bulls caught up in a shoving match in the Snowy Range — a “moose mosh,” so to speak — where mostly just having fun and testing each other, some experienced wildlife photographers said.
The serious, far more brutal clashes will come later as the moose rut, or mating season, fully kicks in.
“They were just testing each other. It never got very intense. They will do this when they’re not sure of their opponent, and they usually can work it out who is in charge without taking the risk of a serious injury,” wildlife photographer Greg Bergquist of Rawlins told Cowboy State Daily.
He recently took video of three bull moose sparring near Brooklyn Lake atop the Snowy Range Mountains.
After viewing the video, photographer Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven, who chronicles the lives of moose in the Grand Teton area, agreed that such more-or-less friendly contests between bulls are common this time of year.
“Yes, they're ‘play sparring.’ The real thing is much more violent and quick,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
Hanging Out With The Boys (And A Lady)
Buck and bulls in the deer family (moose, elk and whitetail and mule deer) will sometimes hang out together in all-male “bachelor groups” before splitting off to pursue females during the rut.
Bergquist said he came across one such group of six bull moose early on Sept. 15 during a trip into the Snowies.
There was also a cow – or female moose – present, but the contests for her affections didn’t get too strident while she was there.
“They were approximately 30 yards away at the time of the video. I found them about 20 minutes before sunrise and stayed with him for close to two hours,” he said.
In the video, the three bulls push back and forth, and the clashing of their antlers can be heard clearly. After a while, one bull appears to come out on top. One of his opponents peels off and leaves. Then the other gives up, emitting a few despondent-sounding grunts.
During the course of his encounter with the moose, Bergquist took more video and still photos of the bulls and cow moose engaging in more shoving matches, or just hanging out.
Ruts Tied To Gestation Periods
The competition between bull moose and elk, which are also now rutting,will get increasingly fierce going into October, and then taper off into relative peace and quiet, Vangoidtsenhoven said.
He’s also taken numerous photos of bull moose sparing, including some three-way pushing contests like the one Bergquist witnessed.
And just after the moose and elk wrap things up and all become friends again, Wyoming’s buck deer will start getting cantankerous with each other, Vangoidtsenhoven said.
The rutting season is determined by the animals’ gestation periods, he said.
“Here in the Tetons and Yellowstone, the animal's gestation period defines when the rut happens. Babies are typically born around May to maximize survival chances in the spring when food is growing and giving them the longest time possible to grow enough before winter hits,” Vangoidtsenhoven said.
“So, moose and elk have a gestation period of eight months,” he added. “That puts their rut in September-October. Mule deer gestation period is 6-7 months, so their rut in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is November-December.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.