If you're ever along on one of Jan Ferris’ Sisters of the Earth Adventures to Isle Royale National Park, you won't see a single white-tailed deer . . . or a black bear . . . or a coyote or bobcat, or even a chipmunk.
That's because every one of those species is absent from this rugged island wilderness north of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
But you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of one of the island's fairly famous moose population.
And if you do luck into a “moose encounter, " as Ferris describes it, don't approach the animal, remain at least 50 feet away, and be prepared to get out of there in a hurry.
Despite the common belief that moose are “big, dumb and harmless, that's just not so, " says the Three Oaks, Michigan native, who knows her subject matter first-hand, having been rescued by boat from her own moose encounter about a dozen years ago.
With that life-lesson under her belt, Ferris, who now lives in Buchanan, hopes to compile enough stories about moose-to-human interactions to fill a book she's writing on the subject. She also uses the real-life experience to teach clients of Sisters of the Earth Adventures some valuable safety tips about respect in the wilderness.
"I don't intend to frighten anyone, but it's important for people to realize that the caricature of Bullwinkle the Moose is not at all accurate, " she says. “The moose of Isle Royale are wonderful, they're beautiful, but they can be dangerous at any time. As with any animal you encounter, you can't know that animal's history, or its history with humans. "
A male moose - a bull moose - can stand 8-feet high at his shoulders, and weigh a full ton. Typically, moose tend to be somewhat shy, Ferris says, and are not usually aggressive. They usually conceal themselves in the woods and brush, but can be seen in the waters surrounding the island, and on hiking trails, especially when trying to escape the seasonal biting flies that vex them.
And like good mamas everywhere, the female moose - a cow - will do whatever she thinks she must in order to protect her young. That's the situation that led Ferris into unexpected danger.
"It was a female moose with her calf nearby, and I never saw the calf, " she recalls. “I was hanging around, watching her, because she was there and she wasn't in a hurry to leave. I thought, ‘how cool!’ until I saw her ears go back, and then I knew I was in trouble. "
Reports that moose have poor eyesight and short memories and won't see you if you move to one side are “just wrong, " Ferris says.
"There have been people who have been chased up trees, and had to stay there five or six hours, while a moose waited below, " she says. “What is true is that moose have poor peripheral vision. You have to move to the side and behind them if you want to escape their vision. "
Rushing to the water is no guaranteed safety move, because moose are excellent swimmers and will attack small boats - successfully - if they feel threatened, she notes.
Moose have been observed on Isle Royale since about 1900, according to a Web site maintained by the National Park Service. They number in the hundreds now, although researchers in the 1930s recorded more than 2,000 moose before the arrival of their sole predator on the island - the wild wolf.
Wolves arrived on Isle Royale by walking across an ice bridge that formed between the island and Ontario, Canada between 1948 and 1951. Since 1959, scientists and eco-biologists have monitored and recorded this unique single-predator-single-prey relationship in the longest continuous study of its kind in history.
Kate Sheridan is a Michigan freelance writer, photographer and homesteader whose writings on the fun and foibles of country living may be found at http://www.gardenandhearth.com/RuralLiving.htm .