A Helena-area bull moose that amazed game managers with its travels was found dead by a hiker in the mountains west of the city this week.
He first caught the attention of Helena Valley residents in 2006, when the young bull appeared off of York Road and took up residence in the area.
“We thought it was kind of unusual, but we figured he’d pass through,” said Warden Sgt. Dave Loewen of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Sightings of the bull continued in the valley, which culminated late one night with game wardens and the Montana Highway Patrol hazing him from the Interstate near the Capitol exit, he said. It was then that managers decided a relocation was necessary for the safety of people and the moose, he added.
“A few days later he wasn’t going anywhere, and we found him out behind Home Depot,” Loewen said. “We darted him out there, and he made it 300 or 400 yards before he collapsed in the old parking lot of Macaroni Grill.”
The bull received a green ear tag and a ride to the Vigilante Campground area near York. Wildlife managers figured the body of water between the moose and Helena would keep him away, Loewen said.
“Well about seven or eight days later we start getting reports of a moose again,” he said. “Sure enough, it was the same bull with a green ear tag.”
To the surprise of everyone involved, the bull’s reappearance meant either he had swam across Hauser Reservoir or walked across York Bridge, Loewen said.
A few rubber bullets and bean bag loads fired from shotguns got the moose moving west, and again managers thought he might just disappear.
“We didn’t hear from him for quite awhile, then we got a report of a moose on three legs up Colorado Gulch,” Loewen said. “We investigated that and we could see that it was the same green ear tagged bull.”
Now 2010, the injury to the moose’s rear leg left him slow but otherwise healthy, Loewen said. FWP and residents continued to track the moose, but because he could still move and feed, they decided not to intervene, he said.
Another distinguishing characteristic of the bull was that he quit growing antlers after his injury, and Loewen suspected the bull needed to conserve energy.
Then last year, Loewen received reports of an injured moose in the Rimini area, west of Helena. Once again, the ear tagged bull had made the miles-long trek farther west on his three good legs.
“We got more and more calls that he wasn’t moving too well or too afraid of people,” Loewen said. “Then I got a call today (Wednesday) that a hiker found a dead moose.”
Loewen ventured to the Rimini area and found the remains. Natural causes or a mountain lion ultimately caught up with the semi-famous moose, he said, and the green ear tag confirmed it was still the same bull from 2006.
“I figured he was 10 years old, which is a healthy lifespan for a moose,” Loewen said.