Outdoor News (outdoornews.com)
By Tim Spielman
Nashwauk, Minn. — No matter the time of year, or the location, when one enters the woods to trap or hunt, there are inherent dangers. One of the most unexpected caught up to a Nashwauk man late last month.
Don Newman is recovering still, from a beating he took at the hooves of a cow moose near Isabella as the 36-year-old Fond du Lac band members checked marten traps. A young Labrador, integral to the story of the moose encounter as both antagonist and hero, escaped unscathed.
Newman, a construction worker during the “warm season” and trapper during the winter months, sees it mostly as the latter. “We’re nominating him for ‘dog of the year,’ ” he says.
It was a fairly typical day Feb. 26, when Newman set out on a 330-plus-mile loop to check his traps in northern Minnesota. But this time, Trigger, a 9-month-old silver Lab accompanied him. Trigger had been borrowed from Newman’s friend Chad Tardy, so that the Lab could breed one of Newman’s own dogs.
At a stop not far from Isabella, Newman received a precarious omen.
He’d driven down a road kept clear of snow by a grader during the winter months. He pulled his truck to the shoulder, let Trigger out of the truck, and was securing his snowshoes when “a whole side of the truck falls into the ditch,” he said. It had broken through the crust that looked like part of the rural road.
Newman said he figured he’d check his traps, then dig out the vehicle when he returned.
The first check of a trap yielded no furbearer, so he moved on to another set. As he approached, he said, he heard a grunt. At first he thought the sound had come from the Lab, then he heard the grunt again, and knew it wasn’t Trigger.
“I’m an avid moose hunter, and I knew what it was,” he said.
Newman saw the cow moose about the same time it saw him, and he slowly began to backpedal. It was then that Trigger spotted the animal and barked.
That’s when the cow, which he estimated to weigh between 800 and 900 pounds, dropped her head and pinned her ears back. “She was on me so fast,” he said.
Newman was knocked into the snow only about 15 feet from the roadway. “I wrapped my hands around my head and neck as best I could,” he said. He used his backpack with supplies and bait as a shield.
It was a bit later when he realized the fortuitousness of doing something different that day.
“I usually just put my backpack on one arm,” he said. “But for some crazy reason, I had it on both shoulders. It happened to be the very thing that saved my hide.”
The cow, he said, used all that it had at its disposal during the attack. Not only did it stomp him with its front hooves, but “I felt some back-kicks,” he said. “The front hooves just stomp on you, but the back kick is what mangled my backpack.”
Trigger, Newman said, reacted quickly to the attack by mounting an attack of his own on the moose, “tearing at the back end and the legs.”
The dog ran toward the road when the moose ended its assault on Newman, and the cow followed.
“I stood up and was getting my bearings,” he said. “That’s when I saw the (moose) calf walk by.”
No longer feeling threatened, the moose and calf continued down the road, leaving the dog unharmed and Newman trying to fathom what had just occurred.
He said there was hair in the vicinity of where he’d been stomped and kicked, indicating Trigger had been “tearing at the moose.”
The dog’s reaction, given its age and the known gentle demeanor of Labs, might surprise some.
However, “Dogs have a sense to them when they know you’re in danger,” said Newman, who has three Labs of his own.
Newman said he didn’t really know how badly he was hurt, other than his shoulder was sore. So he spent an hour getting his truck freed from the snow, then continued checking his traps.
“I didn’t really feel it. I knew I got my ass kicked, obviously.”
Once home, Newman took a hot shower. That’s when his shoulder started “throbbing like a bad toothache.”
He went to the doctor the following day. Nothing was broken, but there were stretched and torn muscles in his shoulder, he said.
“That ended my trapping career (for the season),” he said.
Newman said he’s talked to biologists who have told him how rare an occurrence a moose attack is, especially that of a cow moose.
“Nine out of 10 times you run into a moose it’s going to go a different direction,” he said. “They say it’s very, very rare, though it happens in Alaska, where there are more moose. And 99 percent of the time it’s not a cow. It’s a bull during the breeding season.”
However, throw in a dog and a calf, and the picture changes.
“It’s a formula for a lot of bad things to happen,” he said.
Dawn Plattner, a DNR biologist in Tower, agrees.
“It’s one of those situations where everything had to come together to go wrong,” Plattner said.
On the other hand, “I was happy to hear that cows are protecting their calves,” she added.
As for Newman, he said he won’t let the incident keep him from the woods, but he’ll approach trapping with newfound appreciation for all the possibilities.
“I’ll be back in the woods, but more cautious next time around,” he said.
Special thanks go to Don Newman and Tim Spielman for living through and writing a great story!