Moose were first introduced to the Bighorn Mountains 70 years ago, in May 1948. During four transplants from 1948 to 1987, a total of 29 moose were relocated from the Jackson Hole area to the Bighorn Mountains. A few moose may have moved on their own across the Bighorn Basin and settled on the west side of the Bighorns. This introduction of moose was very successful as a viable population now exists across the Bighorns.
Moose are readily visible from highways crossing the Bighorns as well as numerous forest service roads. These provide great wildlife viewing opportunities enjoyed by both residents and tourists alike. This area is also popular with hunters. There has been moose hunting in the Bighorns off and on since 1957. Moose are notoriously difficult to manage as they generally occur at low densities, often by themselves or in small groups, and they tend to use habitats with tall cover that make them less visible to managers during surveys.
In an attempt to gain a better understanding of moose ecology in the Bighorns, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming initiated a research project in 2017. A total of 60 adult cow moose will be captured and fitted with GPS telemetry collars. The 3-year project has two primary objectives: evaluate moose population dynamics and seasonal habitat use and movements. A graduate student at the University of Wyoming, working toward a Master’s degree, will work with Dr. Matt Kauffman and local WGFD personnel on the project.
During aerial captures in March 2017 and February 2018, contracted wildlife capture services were able to capture and collar 18 and 15 moose, respectively. Once a moose was located from the helicopter, it was captured with a net fired from a specialized net gun. After the capture crew secured the moose with hobbles, they blindfolded the animal, attached the collar and placed a tag in one ear. The capture crew measured total body length, metatarsus (rear leg) length and girth of the animal. Blood, hair and fecal samples were collected and the moose was released.
An additional 18 moose have been captured from the ground by Sheridan and Cody WGFD personnel. This requires getting within about 30-35 yards of an adult cow moose and darting her with immobilization drugs. Once the collars are deployed and biological samples collected, the drugs are reversed and the moose wanders off, wondering what just happened. Ten more collars will be deployed over the next six months as opportunities arise. The telemetry collars attempt to connect with a satellite every two hours to record the moose’s location. Researchers can view these locations on their computers in almost real time. All of the data is also stored on the collars, which will be retrieved at the end of the study. Hopefully this study will help wildlife biologists and game wardens manage the moose population in the Bighorn Mountains well into the future. You might get lucky this summer and see a collared moose.
Funding for this project is provided by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition.
Tim Thomas is a wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Sheridan Region.