HOUGHTON - A lone moose has been wandering the fields and roads of Houghton County's Stanton Township for the past few weeks, dozens of miles from the closest known moose concentration in Baraga County.
The moose was seen and photographed on Walstrom Road, near the corner of Harma and Coles Creek Roads, and from Liminga Road, both around the Fourth of July weekend. There have also been unconfirmed reports of more recent sightings and moose droppings near Oskar, along the Houghton Canal.
Tom Rautio spotted the moose July 7 from the front porch of a family farm on Walstrom Road, and his sister-in-law, Faye Rautio, and the moose eyeballed each other through a bedroom window before the moose eventually wandered out of the yard and into the trees.
A young bull moose looks back at the camera in Houghton County’s Stanton Township. It is unusual to see a moose in that location as most Western U.P. moose are found in Marquette and Baraga counties.
Ken Linna Photo
"There was nothing going on, and all of a sudden, there he was," Tom said. "He was in the yard probably five minutes or better."
The moose meandered around to the rear of the house, and that's where Faye had her close encounter.
"He was looking right at me in the window," she said. "I was standing right there, maybe three or four feet away. He had no fear."
"He wasn't a little one," added Faye's husband Cliff, who snapped a photo of the moose mostly filling the window, the bottom of which was located nearly five feet off the ground.
According to John "Moose" Henderson, a Michigan Technological University doctoral student specializing in moose, the lone wanderer most likely came from central Baraga County, where there's a steady moose population.
"What happens is when an adult cow has a new baby, she'll chase off her yearling," Henderson said. "They have to go somewhere to search for habitat, and that might be what you have here. He's looking for a home."
Photos of the moose, with approximately foot-long antler buds that haven't spread into the huge rack male moose are known for, seem to back up that theory.
"The antlers are indicative of year one or two," Henderson said. "If he was a full grown male he'd have a pretty good rack by now."
Henderson said whether or not the moose was likely to settle in the area would depend on if he was able to find an area with plenty of water - swamps are ideal - and plenty of green plants for food. Adult moose tend to live at a distance from one another, he said, with each in its own home range. Males will leave that range during rut, or mating season, then usually return to it afterward.
Henderson said the moose was "probably somewhat adventuresome" to trek as far as he likely had, but the wandering was far from unheard of.
"There have been documented cases of moose going long distances, it just depends on a lot of factors," Henderson said. "They can be a very mobile animal."
He said it's not unusual for moose to allow humans to come close, but people, and especially children, should be cautious around them.
"They can be dangerous," he said. "They're generally not, but if you get too close it's possible."
He said people should be especially wary during rut, usually late September through October, when bull moose can be more aggressive.
Ken Linna, who remembers seeing another then-locally-famous moose swimming in the Portage Canal about 15 years ago, spotted the current visitor July 4 on the Liminga Road, between Superior Road and the Houghton Canal Road. The car in front of him stopped, he said, and then he saw the moose at the edge of the ditch-line.
"It looked healthy, with maybe 14-inch horns coming out both sides, knobs on the end, and with velvet yet," he said. "It looked bigger than a horse."