My wife handed me the phone in the early am hours and in a sleepy stuper I answered in my usual way, "Yeah." The lady on the other end answered, " Is this John?" I again replied, "Yeah, in the best sleepy voice I could muster." This is Fish & Game Wildlife Protection calling. We have a moose that has been hit on the Spur Highway. Are you available to harvest it.? Again I replied, "Yeah." By now the person on the other end is thinking, Boy, do I have a sleepy person on the phone this time! After getting the directions one more time I hang up and sit up in bed.
My first thoughts were of rounding up my knives and meat saw and a clean tarp. Then a moment of sadness sweeps over me at the thought of another one of our big game animals killed on the roads of Alaska. Another animal that maybe, just maybe could have been saved if the driver of the vehicle had been just a little more alert or perhaps drove just a few miles per hour slower. I dress quickly and grab my bucket of knives, steel, game bags, and flash light and head out the door. This was something that I have done many times before, since volunteering for the Road Kill Moose program through the Star of the North Lutheran Church in Kenai. I have butchered most of these animals by myself or with the help of my children.
The rewards of being able to donate fresh moose meat from time to time to needy people is all the motivation I need. If it weren't for this program a whole lot of people would not be eating much moose especially our elderly.
I arrive at the scene that was clearly marked by the Alaska State troopers with a series of flares. As I look the area over I try to determine from the injuries to the animal which direction he was heading and where he was hit. I also look for other moose or other animals in the area that may or may not have contributed to the accident. For example dogs sometimes chase moose out into traffic or even bear trying to feed on moose calves.
The area looks to be fairly well traveled moose crossing by all the tracks, and moose droppings. There is plenty of room between the woods and the road for both the driver and the moose to hopefully see each other and to keep out of each other's way. The only real unchangeable problem here is the total darkness, which eliminates visibility.
As I try to piece together the path of the moose and the path of the automobile many questions come to mind. How fast was the driver driving? How far did the vehicle travel after seeing the moose? How far did it travel after hitting the moose? Why are there no skid marks? Where was this person going? Was he or she late to their destination? Have they ever driven this section of the road before? Have they ever spotted moose crossing here before? If they had been traveling 10 miles per hour slower would the accident still have happened? If they left their starting point 15 minutes earlier could they have driven the same stretch of road at a slower safer rate of speed? Was the driver injured? How much damage was also done to the vehicle? How aware was the driver of his or her surroundings? Then perhaps the most important question of all, if this would have been a child on a bike would you have been able to stop your vehicle?
Operating a vehicle in a safe manner is our responsibility every time we get behind the wheel. Here in Alaska, we kill way too many animals on our roads. If you are driving during the evening and night hours you are also driving during the peak animal movement hours especially in the fall and winter. As we keep losing our daylight hours please start allowing a few extra minutes to get to your destinations. Also keep your speed down especially in those well-known heavily traveled wildlife crossing areas. Stay alert to the surroundings around you and learn to watch for our wildlife. The life you save could also be your own....
A few years ago I was dressing out a huge cow moose near Beaver Loop on the Spur Highway. I had several flares set out warning the people traveling on the Spur Highway as well as the four-ways on my pick-up flashing. The moose was down near the ditch but off the shoulder of the road. A pick-up went by so fast it blew my hat off in the ditch! I looked up in time to identify the driver, who just happened to be a friend of mine.
A few days later the following conversation was heard. John was that you standing along the Spur Highway a couple days ago? Yes it was! What were you doing? How come you weren't wearing a hat, don't you usually wear a hat? This is what I mean by being aware of the surroundings around you! This gal paid no attention to the flares, the flashing lights, nor seen about a 1300 lb. moose lying along side the road. Besides being in broad daylight! Think you would like to travel at a high rate of speed with her after dark?
Most of the moose I have harvested off of our roads have only broken legs because they are so tall. Think how much lower to the ground a child on a bike is than a moose. If the fear of hitting a moose isn't reason enough to slow down, perhaps the thought of hitting a child is...........
See you next week!
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