Annual Round of Moose GPS Collaring Underway in Wilson

The goal is to use data from the project to decide where future wildlife crossings should go. But finding the right moose in the right place to collar is trickier some days than others.
GPS moose collaring
Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologists Aly Courtemanch and Gary Fralick advance on a cow moose in Wilson on Tuesday, Jan. 25. (Kyle S. Mackie/KHOL)

by | Jan 26, 2022 | Environment

 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department team of biologists and veterinarians met at the Stilson Parking Lot at 8 a.m. Tuesday, when the thermometer on my car read just 2 degrees Fahrenheit. From there we drove into the River Hollow subdivision just south of Highway 22, but the first moose we found already had a collar on it.

“We had a little more luck last year finding them more quickly, so this year’s been a little slower,” said Aly Courtemanch, a wildlife biologist with the Game and Fish Department in Jackson. “I don’t why they’re just not as visible this week for some reason. Maybe they heard we were coming.”

Courtemanch said the team successfully collared one moose Monday, but they’re hoping to get a total of eight this week. Unfortunately on Tuesday morning, when I spent about four hours with the team, one moose located was too close to the highway. Another turned out to be a bull–and only cows can be collared for this project.

“During the breeding season, the neck on the male will swell up a lot,” Courtemanch explained, “and so it can actually be pretty tricky to collar males because you have to build in a lot of heavy-duty elastic into the collar so that it can expand and contract.”

Mama cow moose

The Game and Fish team located a cow moose (pictured) and her calf munching on the willows behind the Wilson Elementary School on Tuesday, Jan. 25. (Kyle S. Mackie/KHOL)

Finally, we got a promising lead: Two cows were supposedly hanging out in the willows behind the Wilson Elementary School. After a false alarm when I misidentified a dog, we located what turned out to be a mama cow and her calf.

Samantha Allen, the state’s wildlife veterinarian with Game and Fish, said she wanted to make sure the mom was full-grown before she got collared.

“I’d like to see her up, so I say we just bump her and see what she looks like,” Allen said.

A few members of the crew got close enough to encourage the cow to stand up, and she was indeed deemed big enough. Then Courtemanch started loading a dart that contains a mix of drugs that puts the cow to sleep in about 10 minutes once it’s hit so the biologists can take samples and fit it with the collar. That process only takes about 15 minutes and then a reversal drug wakes the moose back up. 

Once ready, Courtemanch advanced slowly toward the mama cow and took aim with her air rifle but narrowly missed the animal’s rump from about 25 yards away.

“I think I might have missed her!” she said, laughing. “We might just load another dart to be ready.”

But Tuesday ended up not being the day for that particular moose. While the team was loading up a second dart, the pair wandered too close to a partially frozen creek, making it too risky to try and dart the mom again for fear that she might stumble onto the ice once tranquilized.

Courtemanch said Game and Fish estimates that there’s at least 70 moose living in the Wilson area. If you have a tip on where an uncollared female is located this week, you can submit it by calling the Jackson office of the department at (307) 733-2321.

To learn more about this project, check out KHOL’s coverage of last year’s round of moose collaring.

Want More Stories Like This?

Donate any amount to support independent media in the Tetons.

KHOL 89.1 Jackson Hole Community Radio Membership Support Ad

About Kyle Mackie

Kyle is a multimedia journalist who joined KHOL as news director in January 2021. Prior to moving West, she reported on education, immigration, racial justice and more for WBFO, the NPR affiliate in Buffalo, NY. With a background in international reporting, Kyle has also worked in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the Western Balkans. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and geography from The George Washington University and master’s degree in journalism from the City University of New York. When not out reporting, Kyle can usually be found trail running, climbing, skiing or grooving to live music.

Related Stories

Stay in Touch with Your Community.

The latest local news, music and culture each week. From our dedicated team to your inbox. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest