Denali NPP Moose Rut

Outdoor_Fool

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For once I have some spare time and will continue to post some of my trips from this summer/fall. This past October I had a few free weekends so I decided to visit Denali NPP. I haven't been down here in the fall for years. I had missed the bulk of the moose rut but knew I might catch the actual breeding season, and could hope to catch some bull moose interactions, if I was lucky. Earlier in the rut (early September) a lot of the rutting activity takes place adjacent to the road but I wasn't sure where the moose headed for this part of the rut. I figured that with enough patience, luck, and driving, I might find some moose. On my way into the park, I did see a pretty huge bull but he was about a half mile from the road, and in the closed area, marked by this.
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I was happy to see a prime bull within a few miles and guessed that was a good sign so I continued driving in until I hit the road closure at mile 30. I turned back and headed to the rutting area a bit, stopping to take some pictures of Denali.
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Seeing no moose, I turned back into the park and pulled off the road just west of the closed area. I loaded my pack and took off to the north.
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Within a couple minutes, I was looking down at this wolf track.
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Then I bumped into these grizzly tracks.
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And then this grizzly digging of the plant Hedysarum alpinum.
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This is the plant that has a fleshy tuber at the base that grizzlies feed on extensively in the spring and fall.
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I continued up the creek until I saw a developed trail to the left of the creek, I walked over and found this.
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I wasn't here to hike a nice park trail so I hiked back across the creek and headed up slope from there. Much better.
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A few bog cranberries.
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An old coyote scat.
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Looking back to the southwest, another view of Denali.
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Some moose scat on the tundra.
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Highbush cranberry shrub providing some fall color.
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I had no real plan when I left the vehicle so I decided to hike to the high point at the left of the picture and just go from there.
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Several minutes later I looked up slope and saw this.
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I put my binoculars up and saw that it was a little bull. Awesome. I ducked out of sight and waited. Within a few minutes he was headed down my way. I started emitting some light bull grunts to try and pique his interest. I lost him in the brush and terrain a few times.
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He slowly continued my way.
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I continued to grunt sporadically, which kept him approaching cautiously. He worked his way around a large clump of brush and then appeared along the lower edge of the brush.
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At this point I quit calling, figuring that if he came closer and figured me out, he would spook, which I did not want. He showed off his antlers to me, then moseyed further down slope.
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He bedded down 40-50 yards away. I figured I would sneak away from him and continue up slope. As I opened my pack to stash my camera, I thought I heard a moose grunt, then another, and another. What the? I stood up and heard more grunts, but they were up slope and to the west (left). I caught some movement and saw this.
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He started raking the brush and snapping branches. Since he was at least 60 yards away, I figured I'd call once again and see how he reacted.
He stopped raking the brush and looked my way.
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At this point he sort of followed the path of the smaller bull, circling around the large clump of brush. He stopped every few seconds and raked the brush some more, grunting along the way. I figured this was a good time for me to shut the heck up and move over toward a small spruce, just in case.
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He stared my way for several minutes as I tried to use the brush to obscure me enough that he would not spook.
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He moved down slope a bit, keeping an eye on me.
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I was expecting the younger bull to jump from his bed but he remained motionless. The big bull moved a bit more down slope and stopped again.
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At this point, he turned away and walked off toward the drainage to the west. As he left he started grunting again and kept this up until I could not hear him anymore. I looked down toward the smaller bull. He stood up and moved down slope and out-of-view.
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I stood there for a few minutes not believing my luck. Wow. I started moving upslope and after a short while, the silence was broken by a cacophany of sandhill cranes trumpeting from somewhere to the south. I looked but saw nothing. There were a boatload of them but I saw nothing. Finally they rose above one of the slopes to the south and became quite visible.
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After swirling around to gain altitude, they took off to the east and eventually out of view.
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I hiked up a bit more, then decided to circle around and head back to the road. I stopped to glass a series of beaver ponds on the other side of the road.
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After glassing the ponds, I scanned this side of the road for a few seconds and saw a spot of white down in the trees and found a huge bull moose with a cow and a younger bull nearby. The younger bull is to the left of the big guy and the cow is to the right, mostly obscured by a spruce.
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I took off in that direction as fast as I could. Travel was super slow through the brushy tundra. By the time I was within a half mile of where they had been, I saw the three of them moving along a low ridge into the rutting area. At this point I just hiked toward the road. There was plenty of moose sign as I hiked along. Moose and caribou scat here.
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A moose scrape. The bulls urinate in these and rub the earthy mix into their neck fur which is apparently an attractant for the cows.
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A couple of spruce saplings destroyed by a bull.
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A well-developed game trail.
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My last view of the day before hopping in the van and heading out.
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Tim Valentine

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May 24, 2015
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That portrait photo of the young bull is really good. Momma moose would be proud to have that on her mantle showing off her young son. ;)

I have never seen antlers that short on a moose.
 

Rockskipper

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Jun 11, 2017
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Well, you're giving @Perry a run for the title of Moose Whisperer. Fantastic shots and your naturalist expertise is interesting to read - had no idea about the moose scrape. Also would love to see that many sandhills.
 
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