I had recently read to my dismay that they have started hunting moose again in New England. Goodness knows why anyone would want to shoot an animal as harmless and retiring as the moose, but thousands of people do—so many, in fact, that states now hold lotteries to decide who gets a permit. Maine in 1996 received 82,000 applications for just 1,500 permits. Over 12,000 outof-staters happily parted with a nonrefundable $20 just to be allowed to take part in the draw. Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old. That’s all there is to it. Without doubt, the moose is the most improbable, endearingly hopeless creature ever to live in the wilds. Every bit of it—its spindly legs, its chronically puzzled expression, its comical oven-mitt antlers—looks like some droll evolutionary joke. It is wondrously ungainly: it runs as if its legs have never been introduced to each other. Above all, what distinguishes the moose is its almost boundless lack of intelligence. If you are driving down a highway and a moose steps from the woods ahead of you, he will stare at you for a long minute (moose are notoriously shortsighted), then abruptly try to run away from you, legs flailing in eight directions at once. Never mind that there are several thousand square miles of forest on either side of the highway. The moose does not think of this. Clueless as to what exactly is going on, he runs halfway to New Brunswick before his peculiar gait inadvertently steers him back into the woods, where he immediately stops and takes on a startled expression that says, “Hey—woods. Now how the heck did I get here?” Moose are so monumentally muddle-headed, in fact, that when they hear a car or truck approaching they will often bolt out of the woods and onto the highway in the curious hope that this will bring them to safety. Amazingly, given the moose’s lack of cunning and peculiarly-blunted survival instincts, it is one of the longest-surviving creatures in North America. Mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, wolves, caribou, wild horses, and even camels all once thrived in eastern North America alongside the moose but gradually stumbled into extinction, while the moose just plodded on. It hasn’t always been so. At the turn of this century, it was estimated that there were no more than a dozen moose in New Hampshire and probably none at all in Vermont. Today New Hampshire has an estimated 5,000 moose, Vermont 1,000, and Maine anywhere up to 30,000. It is because of these robust and growing numbers that hunting has been reintroduced as a way of keeping them from getting out of hand. There are, however, two problems with this that I can think of. First, the numbers are really just guesses. Moose clearly don’t line up for censuses. Some naturalists think the population may have been overstated by as much as 20 percent, which means that the moose aren’t being so much culled as slaughtered. No less pertinent is that there is just something deeply and unquestionably wrong about killing an animal that is so sweetly and dopily unassuming as a moose. I could have slain this one with a slingshot, with a rock or stick—with a folded newspaper, I’d almost bet—and all it wanted was a drink of water. You might as well hunt cows.
Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail)