Of Moose and Men: Antlers Trump Camcorder in Westford, Vermont

It was a week ago today that a moose went Tom-Cruise-on-Oprah’s-Couch crazy in Brent Olsen’s yard. Olsen, a retired IBM senior packaging analyst, lives in Westford. Actually, the moose, based on the video, was behaving more like Mel Gibson than Tom Cruise. We’re talking serious anger management issues.

And, yes, there is a video and the moose is clearly no charmingly daft Bullwinkle.

Here’s what happened. Last Sunday morning, about 7:15, Olsen awoke to find a moose rubbing up against his house and then, much to his amazement, trying to walk over his parked Subaru station wagon, as if the vehicle were a mere fallen log. So, Olsen channeled his inner Peter Shumlin. Remember back in April when the Governor raced outside to protect his birdfeeders from bears? Olsen ran into his yard to try and shoo the moose away from his car. Just for the record, Olsen was wearing a pair of cut-off shorts, which isn’t a lot of clothing, but it might be one piece more than the Governor was wearing when he went to battle the bears for his birdfeeders.

And, because it was a moose, Olsen brought a camcorder with him.

The moose took one look at the camera and reacted like a Hollywood star who has dealt one time too many with the paparazzi. It charged. So, Olsen dropped the camcorder and retreated back inside his home. “The moose just came at me full force as I stood behind my front door,” Olsen recalled. “It kept charging the house.”

Olsen lives in a first floor apartment on the property, and the entrance is under the deck. As a result, the moose’s antlers kept getting twisted under the deck’s posts, preventing the animal from using them on the front door. Olsen’s roommate, a hunter, loaded his rifle.

I’ve seen moose a couple of times in my life. So has my wife. They are not exactly the Mini Coopers of the natural world. They’re big. Exhibit A? Jenna Reed, the game warden who responded to Olsen’s mayday, estimated that the moose in his yard weighed 700 pounds.

Exhibit B? One time, my wife was crouched in the woods in Underhill State Park, photographing, when she heard some grunting and saw steam above her. Her first reaction was that it must have been car exhaust, but there were no roads anywhere near her. And a car didn’t explain the grunting. She stood up slowly and saw no more than a dozen yards from her a pair of antlers almost as wide as a couch. The steam was the moose’s exhalation as it watched her. Fortunately, this moose didn’t have an attitude. For a long moment, my wife and the moose gazed at each other, and then they both walked slowly in opposite directions. The difference? My wife did not take her eyes off the moose; the moose was not especially interested in my wife.

Olsen’s moose was another story. And, sadly, it would not turn out to have a happy ending. As soon as Jenna Reed arrived at the property, the game warden said she “just knew the animal wasn’t right. You could tell by the swaying of the head, the way the eyes were glazed over. It kept tripping. It was scared and it felt cornered.” She had to shoot the sick animal. Based on the animal’s behavior on the video, it is possible the moose had a parasite called brain worm.

“We don’t like to put down animals,” Reed said, “but it’s part of what we do. It’s unfortunate. And this was an aggressive moose.”

Reed also has some sound advice if you see a wild animal in your yard: “Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation. Leave it alone. Stay inside. If it’s threatening, call the game warden through the State Police dispatchers.”

And, of course, get dressed. This has nothing to do with bears and moose or even Rocky the Flying Squirrel. You’ll just feel a lot better about yourself when you see your story in the news.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 9, 2012. Chris’s new novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” was published in July.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.