Saying Boo To A Moose In Sweden

2 April 2015

The moose is a comical animal. Everyone knows that. Woody Allen proved it beyond doubt with his Jewish moose routine. The oversized feet, the baggy lugubrious head and sad wary eyes – Allen was funny in those days. Now it’s just the moose that make me laugh. They’re made for panto, not safaris, in my opinion.

Tommy, my Swedish wildlife guide, disagrees. He says moose are clever, incredibly clever: “Sometimes we follow their tracks into deep woods and then they get behind you and disappear. Very clever animal.”

 Coming face-to-face with moose in Sweden is a remarkable experience. Photograph: Getty

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Attracting Moose With Snowmobiles

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We are riding on snowmobiles in the far north of Sweden, 692 kilometres from Stockholm, and the sky has just dumped half a metre of snow on the forest, which means the moose tracks are clearly visible – though the creatures themselves are a little harder to spot.

If you have ever ridden one of those infernal skiddoo machines, you will know how noisy they are, but apparently that is why a moose safari works so well. The animal just cannot make out what this giant wasp is doing buzzing through the woods in winter, and, instead of running away, just stands and watches.

We come to a ridge and get a view across endless snowy forest. An eagle soars away in the distance and a small herd of reindeer suddenly scramble through the trees, the golden light flickering behind them. These are semi-domesticated animals and belong to the local Sami people.

Guide Tommy on his skiddoo. Guide Tommy on his skiddoo. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

“The herds can attract predators,” says Tommy, “wolves, wolverines, lynx and bears – although they are all hibernating now.”

The bears, interestingly, are extremely shy, though sometimes encounters with humans do lead to rather one-sided wrestling matches. Statistically, however, the most dangerous beast in Swedish forests is the wasp – they kill one person a year on average. But the moose can cause trouble too: they have a tendency to jump out on cars and squash them. I hope they don’t do the same thing to snowmobiles.

We start to explore deeper into the forest, along tracks that are deep in snow. It’s hard to stay upright. I bury my skiddoo and Tommy pulls it out with a rope. Further on we both get stuck and spend a long time digging and shoving. Tommy calls in a friend, Yngve, to help us locate some moose. Yngve arrives, helps us dig out, then gets stuck himself. It’s all great fun.

Yngve goes off on a recce and finds fresh tracks. He’s certain there are moose nearby. We stop. I can hardly see anything now: the tears are whipped from my eyes by the wind and tiny particles of drifting ice in the air. Then Yngve grins.

Moose mother and baby. Moose mother and baby. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

Wildlife experiences closer to home: Sunbathe With Hippos In Victoria

Nature across the Tasman: Remarkable Wildlife On NZ's Sub-Antarctic Islands


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Spotting My First Moose

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“Behind you!”

Well, they would be. Panto comedians. Five moose, hooves flying wildly, are just legging it across the track. And gone.

“There are more – look!” A mother and calf step gingerly through the trees a hundred metres to our right. Moose can have two or three calves a year, hence the healthy 300,000-strong population in Sweden.

It is almost dark now so we head for our accommodation, an off-grid cabin at Svansele Vildmarkscenter on the banks of the Skellefteå river. Built by a local carpenter and entrepreneur, Thorbjörn Holmlund, it is a superb bit of Swedish design: White Fang meets Ikea. There is a huge central fire for cooking, plus a sauna and outside hot tub. There is also a hole in the river ice, but I refuse to take a dip. Ice swimming? That is insane.

Next morning we spot more moose before visiting Thorbjörn’s headquarters and wildlife display of stuffed specimens. The Swedes have a robust attitude to wildlife, allowing hunting but encouraging conservation. The result is a healthy countryside filled with prey and predators, rather than the glorified pheasant farm we call Britain.

Dinner time in the wildlife centre. Dinner time in the wildlife centre. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

So that is my moose safari. They guarantee moose in 24 hours and I must have seen more than a dozen. We drive back to the Skellefteå town, where there is something happening on the river. It turns out to be the Scandinavian cold water swimming championships, for which they have cut a 25-metre pool in the river ice. Local organiser Lasse explains: “The water is at zero degrees and the body reacts differently.”

“Shock?”

“You slide into it, then wait till your breathing comes back. Wanna try?”

“No.”

Ten minutes later, in borrowed dressing gown and slippers, I’m standing by the water. Lasse is a persuasive man. Entering the water I get the feeling that a large moose and a bear have squashed me. After half a minute the bear gets off and my breathing settles. I push off and swim a length, trying not to get my head wet. The last 25 metres are a struggle.

I climb out and within a minute I’m inside a sauna. That’s the amazing thing about Sweden: you are never more than a minute from a sauna. Slowly the moose gets off me and circulation returns.

That night I drink a lot of local beer and sleep for 14 hours, dreaming of moose. They are still funny, I reckon, but clever too. I think Woody Allen should try the moose safari.

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Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Sweden.

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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

This article was written by Kevin Rushby from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Kevin Rushby

Kevin Rushby is Guardian Travel's 'Explorer' and a contributor to the Saturday Review. He is the author of four acclaimed travel books, including Hunting Pirate Heaven, an investigation of 17th century pirate utopias in the Indian Ocean. His most recent book is Paradise, an historical account of human searching for perfection over the centuries.