Believe the name. When you visit Moose Alley, New Hampshire,
(not an actual town, but Route 3 north of Pittsburg up to the Canadian border) you will see moose. It’s like magic; you just always see moose. I was skeptical, too–the victim of too many parks boasting of animals I would never see. But Moose Alley, way up in Coos County, has never failed me.
I kept asking the locals for moose-watching tips–since moose follow routines. Usually I got nowhere with that line of questioning–lots of encouragement to look “anywhere,” “any road” at “any time.” So I came up with what I would tell a friend visiting Moose Alley.
1. Look for Roadside Wallows.
Moose hang out by the side of the road to drink from ponds and puddles with salt run-off. You can spot the wallows because they tend to have trampled mud around them and a moose trail leading away from the road.
2. Look for Roadside Parking.
Where there are established wallows there is effectively wallow parking. Moose return at the same time every day. Moose watchers follow. One particularly popular wallow has a lot next to it–and still gets an overflow crowd parking on Route 3 at dusk. For that matter if you see a roadside parked car, as you will quickly figure out, it’s probably your fellow moose watcher. Just ask if they’ve actually seen a moose there and are not just acting on a hunch that “that looks like a perfect place for a moose”–a phrase you will find yourself using repeatedly.
3. Moose also like recently cut trees.
Georgie Lyons told me that a logger off Route 26 says that a dozen moose appear in the morning when they hear him start his chainsaw. (She’s in the visitor’s center near Colebrook, but in the Chamber of Commerce back office. She knows everything about the area and is happy to share it.)
4. Timing matters, but not completely.
You will be exhorted to Go at Dusk and Dawn. Moose are crepuscular–meaning most active then. I’ve had the best luck seeing them in the hour right before dark. But they’re also really active at night. A truck driver reports he recently saw 27 moose (not all at once) along a nearby road at 2 a.m. The problem with this–as with dusk–is that if you get any picture, it’ll be lousy. And for that matter, you may see them during the day, too. Locals stress that they see them all times of day. I had my best sighting at 10 am. Moose’s Hours Inconvenient? Go Anytime.
5. Route 3 is the best, but any area road will do.
The heart of Moose Alley is Route 3, but Routes 145, 26 and 16 all are local hotspots. So are the logging roads off Route 3, especially one marked Gate 137. For that matter, the people I talked to just said to drive any local road, especially ones bordering wilderness. The thoughtfully-built official viewing area on 26 hasn’t had moose in a while, locals say. (We rented a house at a delightful Poodle Farm in Colebrook, a good mid-point.)
Once you find a moose spot, come back at the same time tomorrow. And if the moose get spooked by watchers, just sit and wait. You’ll have the moose all to yourself.
7. You may not see any antlers.
First off, you’re going to see more cows than bulls because the bulls are more wary. Second, the antlers fall off after the fall mating season, then resprout in early summer.
8. Your moose call is only going to work in mating season.
Moose don’t just call each other to figure out where everyone’s at–like some species do. They only call in season. Experienced moose hunters say it really works–and may even work a month or so after the season because some females may be late. But moose hunting seasons are timed to coincide with the rut. So you may just draw in hunters. And the moose catch on pretty quickly to the hunt and become much more cautious about people, hunting guide Larry Adair told me last year.
9. The logging drivers hate you.
They’re trying to work and here we are trolling around for moose, half stopping. If you go on the logging roads, you have to be ready to get out of their way. They show their annoyance by driving fast past you.
10. The moose aren’t that fond of you, either. And they really hate your dog.
Moose will run off if you get too close–or they may warn you off, but the signs may be too subtle: they raise the hackles on their rump, point ears back and lip their lips. Also, they give you a dirty look. They can bluff charge, charge for real and go out of their way to kick a dog. You car is actually a pretty good wildlife blind, especially if you’ve got a sun roof. Though when there’s a Moose Jam, families will get out. You’ll feel like a chump staying in your car. But the moose will eventually get spooked by people on foot.
For all that, it’s still a thrill to get to watch one of these giant animals eat. I’ve been trolling likely looking bogs throughout New England and the Maritimes and Moose Alley is about the easiest place to do it.