Moose are an iconic Idaho species, and moose hunts are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Idahoans. Populations are carefully managed through an exclusively controlled hunt framework, and these hunts are among the most sought-after in the state. In Southwest Idaho, densities of moose are low, and the moose population isn't large enough to support a hunt, so even one moose killed – mistakenly or intentionally – is too many.
After multiple moose were mistaken for elk and illegally killed in Idaho Fish and Game's Southwest Region in 2020, Fish and Game is reminding hunters that it is their responsibility to positively identify their target before pulling the trigger, and that they need to "know their bulls" before heading out for rifle seasons.
"To put it simply, hunters are always responsible for knowing their target, and this isn't a mistake they should be making," District Conservation Officer Marshall Haynes said.
Know your bulls
In almost all of the state's elk zones, there is a possibility that elk hunters could encounter a moose while out in the field, so it's crucial that they are able to tell moose from elk. It's also their ethical and legal responsibility to be 100 percent positive of their target before taking a shot. Luckily, the two species are easily distinguishable.
Elk range in color from light brown in winter to reddish tan in summer and have characteristic buff-colored rumps. In winter, a dark brown, shaggy mane hangs from the neck to the chest. Bull elk have large, spreading antlers.
Moose are dark brown with grayish legs. They have a large, overhanging snout and a dewlap on the throat. The antlers on the male are massive, palmate, and flat.
While the two species are easily identifiable, sometimes conditions can make doing so more difficult. However, whether it's low-light conditions, a long-distance view of the animal, poor judgement by the hunter, or a combination of those or other circumstances, the hunter is ultimately responsible for positively identifying their target before pulling the trigger.
"It's a pretty simple principle, and it's one of the first things you are taught in hunter education: If there is any doubt at all, you should never take that shot," Haynes said. "There is no excuse for shooting the wrong animal."