Locals save young moose that fell through ice

By Javier Serna
Assistant Editor

Grand Marais, Minn. — A young moose was crossing Hungry Jack Lake near the Gunflint Trail when it fell through the ice Monday morning, precipitating a local effort to save the animal from a watery death.

While many others were involved in supporting the rescue, it was three men, including two from the volunteer fire department, who helped pry the moose from the ice, allowing it to eventually walk off the lake.

Forrest Parson, the owner of Hungry Jack Lodge, situated on a point on the north side of the lake, said he was drinking a cup of coffee around 7:20 a.m., when he looked out the window and saw a moose walking across the lake.

“You don’t typically see that,” he said.

He went downstairs for another cup of coffee, and didn’t see the animal when he looked again.

“Then I could see this black blob out there,” he said, noting that it had broken through the ice. “I could see it kicking its feet. I didn’t know what to do.”

He tried to get in touch with the local conservation officer, who was out of town for training. Then he called Jim Morrison, who heads up the local branch of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department.

A couple of posses were formed as word traveled around the small community near Poplar Lake, about halfway up the 57-mile Gunflint Trail, roughly an hour north of Grand Marais.

From two groups formed the three-man team of David Seaton, co-owner of Hungry Jack Canoe Outfitters on the south side of the lake, Bob McCloughan, of Bearskin Lodge on nearby East Bearskin Lake, and Morrison, who lives nearby.

“A bunch of us showed up,” said Morrison, though most stayed for support at shore, unsure of ice that had been measured recently at about 20 inches on a shady side of the lake, according to Seaton’s wife, Nancy. The soft spot, David Seaton later would recall, was about 6 to 8 inches of unstable “candle” ice.

They dragged out aluminum canoes for safety, and brought out ropes and tow straps, among other utility items they thought they might need. Seaton wore ice cleats, which would have served all of the men well. Robinson and McCloughan kept a foot in a canoe, giving them some traction, which they would need to pull and tug at a moose that was estimated later between 600 and 1,000 pounds.

They found the moose roughly in the middle of the lake, its chin resting on the edge of the ice, exhausted and no longer thrashing around.

“He was totally exhausted,” Morrison said.

“The hole wasn’t really that big,” Seaton said. “When we got there, he had pretty much given up.”

The men wrapped the moose in the tow straps that Seaton had decided to pull from his truck, worried that rope might actually choke the beast. With canoes on both sides of the moose, the men pulled and tugged on it, not making much headway, with Morrison and McCloughan in one canoe, and Seaton in the other.

Eventually, the moose turned sideways, allowing one of its hoofs to come out of the water, Seaton said.

“They pulled to the side, and I pulled up, and one hoof came up,” Seaton said, noting it was the first to come up on the ice. “I could see the other leg.”

Seaton reached down into the water, grabbed the other leg, and pulled it up on the ice. He removed one of the straps around its neck and put it around the hoofs.

McCloughan said he and Morrison anchored themselves to the ice with an ice axe.

“We were finally able to yank him out of there,” he said. “We slid him out on his side. He got to his feet.”

It’s unclear the sex of the animal, which has been described by observers and in news reports as both male and female. It wasn’t sporting any antlers, but now is about the time that antlered moose would shed their headgear. The moose, either way, was fairly young.

The ordeal was far from over. The moose stood there for about an hour, dazed and unwilling to move, still strong enough to resist being led away. One of its hind legs fell through the ice again, but it was able to quickly recover.

It was shivering and likely in one of the stages of hypothermia due to exposure to the cold water.

“Eventually, we used every bit of moose psychology that we could,” McCloughan said.

They directed those on shore to hide.

“The minute we walked toward shore, he followed us like a pet moose,” he said.

The animal fell through again about 20 feet from shore, this time in shallow water, allowing it to get out on its own. But during the process, it turned back toward the middle of the lake.

The men corralled it back toward the near shore, but it went parallel to the ice, avoiding the black ice and sticking to the white ice.

“It knew enough to stick to the white ice,” Seaton said.

Ultimately, everybody had to leave the ice before the moose would go about its way. But a checkup later in the day confirmed tracks leading off the lake, including another brief break through in the shore ice, before leading off into the woods.

Seaton said he believes the moose has been living near his residence, and considered it a neighbor.

“I am a big fan of letting nature take its course, but on the other hand, if you feel like you could have done something and you didn’t try, that wouldn’t feel good,” he said.

And the moose didn’t seem to mind the help, though close encounters with the species can end poorly for humans.

“The moose was calm,” Seaton said. “It felt like it sensed that somebody was there to help.”

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