Moose Facts
Moose (Alces alces)

The largest member of the deer family, moose in North America range across a broad band of forest that extends from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains, into Alaska, and as far south as Colorado.

The Latin name Alces means "elk" in English, a term erroneously used by the first American settlers for the North American elk (Cervus elaphus) or "wapiti." Historically in Eurasia, the moose is referred to as the elk and red deer has been synonymous with wapiti. Presently in Eurasia, the terms elk and moose are synonymous. The present moose Alces alces appeared in Europe about 0.5 million years ago.

The impressive antler rack of a male moose grows every year during the spring and summer. Throughout the growing period, antlers are covered with a soft, fine-haired nourishing skin called "velvet". In August, the moose rubs the velvet off on brush and trees, revealing the solid mass of bone that has dried and hardened, or ossified, by summer's end.

Moose have a distinctive flap of skin hanging from its lower jaw. This is called the "bell" or the "dewlap" and its function in unknown. Dewlaps vary in size and appearance, you may be able to distinguish particular moose by their dewlaps.

Moose are vegetarian. Hearing and smell are the moose strongest senses. Their eyesight is not exceptionally sharp.

Female moose first become sexually active at 1.4 or 2.4 years of age. Breeding season occurs in autumn. Fetal development begins after fertilization of the egg and continues during a 216- to 240-day gestation period that terminates at calving in late May. Triplets are rare in moose. In good habitat, chances of producing twins increases.

Eastern or Taiga Moose (Alces alces americana)

Cows weigh 700-900 lbs. while bulls weigh 1,000-1,200 lbs. A full-grown moose measures about 9 feet long from nose to tail and about 7 feet tall at the shoulder. Before mating season, the front hoof width of a prime bull is maximum and measures about 5 inches. The hoof width of a cow is 3.7 inches. Hoof width of calves in autumn is around 2.8 inches. Antler spread rarely exceeds 65 inches, a very good spread is 55 inches. The maximum dry weight of antlers is about 40 lbs. Most prime antlers are of butterfly-type and well-developed front palms are less frequent than in the Alaskan moose. Generally, prime bulls have a brow-tine ramified into three or four points. Yearlings carry second antlers as massive spikes.

Alaskan/Yukon or Tundra Moose (Alces alces gigas)

Cows weigh up to 1,100 lbs. Bulls weigh 1,500 lbs. or possibly more. Length of adult moose varies from 9.5 to 10 feet long. Frontal hoof width of prime bulls is about 5.5 inches and 4.3 inches in prime cows. Alaskan/Yukon moose antlers are bipalmated, with well expressed brow palms. Antler spread of 82.7 inches has been recorded. Antler weight is 64 lbs. maximum, average 44 to 55 lbs. Substantially higher than in taiga moose.


Ecology and Management of the North American Moose.
Franzmann/Schwartz,  Smithsonian Institution Press.
© 1997 by the Wildlife Management Institute.


Photographing Moose

Patience is perhaps the most important factor to obtain good pictures of moose. Learning about their behavior and habits beforehand goes hand in hand with having patience. From my observations, Moose in the northeast are not normally aggressive; nonetheless, always exercise caution. Moose could become aggressive when they are harassed by people or traffic, or when they are hungry or tired. Also be aware of any cows with calves. As with any other animals, they can be fierce in protecting their young. Resist the temptation to chase or to approach moose; they may not see you or become winded, and if you are too close when they recognize your presence you may be setting yourself up for injury.   Just be patient and be prepared to shoot when the moose senses you nearby; it may turn its head to look at you and cock its ears forward. Generally speaking, the uttermost respect for any type of wildlife will render the best and more natural pictures.


For environmental pictures, the short telephoto lenses and even the wide angle lenses are useful. However, 300 mm lenses or longer are better for moose and wildlife photography; they bring the subject closer while allowing us to keep the physical distance. Like most wildlife photographers, I particularly favor a fast 500 mm lens or longer for wildlife. Top camera manufacturers like Canon or Nikon both offer 500 or 600 mm f/4 lenses. This type of lenses also provide a shallower depth of field; thus, making it easier for isolating the subject. If you wish to learn more about the depth of field, here is a link that offers good information: Depth of Field.

Nowadays, with the magnification factor that several digital SLR cameras provide, the shorter telephoto lenses have become more useful for photographing wildlife. Here are some of the choices:

- Nikon 300 mm f/2.8 plus the 1.4X, 1.7X or 2X teleconverters. In my opinion, this is the best lens that Nikon
  has ever made. It is very sharp and there is minimal loss of light or focusing speed when used with the
  teleconverters. Understand that its Canon counterpart is an excellent lens as well.

- Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 VR plus the 1.4 or 1.7X teleconverters. The focusing slows down when used
  with the 2X teleconverter, so I avoid using the 70-200 + 2X combination for flight shots of birds. Other than
  that, it is an excellent, medium telephoto zoom lens for moose photography.

- Nikon 200-400 mm f/4 VR. This lens has become very popular among the Nikon users. However, I had the
  opportunity to try it with the 1.4 and 1.7 teleconverters and find that its focusing slows down considerably in
  comparison to the other two previous lens combinations listed above. It offers a very good range, but it would
  not be my choice of lens for action photography. If its range is long enough for you without the teleconverters,
  then go for it.
- Canon or Nikon also offer the 400 mm f/2.8; an excellent lens, although as heavy and bulky as the
  500 or 600 mm f/4, but with a shorter range.
- Nikon 80-400 mm f/5.6 VR. The range of this lens is very useful, although it is very slow in focusing in
  comparison to the f/2,8 lenses. It is a good lens for wildlife photography in situations where there is not too
  much movement involved. I would not recommend this lens for action photography. It can be done, but
  frustrations would be part of the experience.

- Canon 100-400 mm f/5.6. or Canon 400 mm f/5.6. I have no personal experience with these lenses;
  however, some professional wildlife photographers use them with excellent results.

As you can see, there are plenty of choices and it all depends on your budget and the amount of load that you wish to carry. The latest as of February 2008 is a 33-pound Sigma 200-500 mm, f/2.8. No price announced for this lens yet.

Nature recycles

After the moose have dropped their antlers, they become a good source of calcium for rodents and other animals. If you happen to find any antlers in the woods, it is advisable not to remove them. In fact, it is against the law to remove antlers from any US National or State Park.

Happy Shooting!

Cheers! Ligia

* * *

Back to the Moose Gallery


Text and images ©Copyright Ligia Dovale-Kiamco. No reproduction allowed without expressed written permission of the photographer.