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Montana Field Guides

Moose - Alces americanus

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status


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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Moose (Alces americanus) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 05/03/2018
    View State Conservation Rank Criteria
    Range Extent

    ScoreF - 20,000-200,000 km squared (about 8,000-80,000 square miles)

    Comment168,078 square Kilometers from Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreF - Increase (increase of >25%)

    CommentLittle evidence exists of historic moose presence in Montana. Since European arrival populations have increased in response to favorable climate conditions and an increase in browse resulting from logging activities.

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation

    CommentThis species is currently the subject of a Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks study implemented in response to apparent declines beginning in the 1990s (


    ScoreU - Unknown. The available information is not sufficient to assign degree of threat as above. (Severity, scope, and immediacy are all unknown, or mostly [two of three] unknown or not assessed [null].)

    CommentUnknown, currently the causes of the recent declines are not well understood but could include disease, predation, nutrition, or some combination of these factors

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    CommentModerately Vulnerable due to its biology, translocation and management can mitigate these vulnerabilities.

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreB - Narrow. Specialist. Specific habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors (see above) are used or required by the Element, but these key requirements are common and within the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentRiparian and mesic forest specialist

    Raw Conservation Status Score

    Score 3.5 + 0 (geographic distribution) + 0 (environmental specificity) + 0 (short-term trend) + 0 (intrinsic vulnerability) = 3.5

General Description
Coat dark brown to black; large overhanging snout; pendant "bell" under throat; antlers massive and flat; tail short; bulls (largest antlered animals in the world) weigh 800 to 1,200 lbs. cows 600 to 800 lbs. Usually solitary but may congregate during rut or on excellent winter range; at home in water, may submerge for 3 to 4 minutes, or swim for miles; cows very protective of calves.

Species Range
Montana Range


Montana Distribution

Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 2178

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Often uses separate summer and winter ranges. Movements prompted by temperature and snow depth.

Variable. In summer, mountain meadows, river valleys, swampy areas, clearcuts. In winter, willow flats or mature coniferous forests. Best ability of any Montana ungulate to negotiate deep snow. Coniferous cover, uneven plant age composition and willows important components. Some Moose may be yearlong willow flat residents (Stone 1971). Closed canopy stands may be important in late winter (Mattson and Despain 1985).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Browse, including large saplings; aquatic vegetation. Varies between ranges. Winter: willow, serviceberry, chokecherry and redosier dogwood. In spring and summer, increased forb use (up to70% of diet). Some populations use aquatic vegetation overall. Sub-climax seral deciduous browse important (Stone 1971).

In Yaak River drainage used clearcuts, small cuts and cuts logged 15 to 30 years ago more than expected (Mattson and Despain 1985). Because Moose primarily use browse, frequently willow, competition with cattle usually minimal.

Reproductive Characteristics
Breed in late September and early October; shed antlers in December or January; one or two russet-brown young without spots. Where Moose are scarce, both sexes travel extensively looking for mates; in other areas, both sexes form breeding groups. Bulls fight for cows; females usually breed when 2 1/2 years old, but may breed as yearlings on good range. Ovulation rates 48/100 yearlings, 115/100 adult cows. Pregnancy rates 32/100 yearlings, 16/100 adult cows, twinning rates 0/100 yearlings, 16/100 adult cows; rate of increase similar to other areas.

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Mattson, D.J. and D.G. Despain. 1985. Grizzly bear habitat component mapping handbook for the Yellowstone ecosystem. Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team: National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, May 1985. 37 pp.
    • Stone, J.L. 1971. Winter movements and distribution of moose in upper Rock Creek drainage, Granite County, Montana. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 80 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Anonymous. 1931. Moose-elk in Montana. Calif. Fish and Game. 17: 198.
    • Anonymous. 1942. Grizzly bear, mountain goat, and moose survey. Flathead and Kootenai Management Units. Montana Fish and Game Department. Special Rep. 27 pp.
    • Anonymous. 1942. Hellroaring-Slough Creek moose investigation. Montana Fish and Game Comm., 1941-42 Biennial Report.
    • Anonymous. 1953. Caribou on the Yaak. Montana Wildlife. August.
    • Anonymous. 1962. Censusing moose by helicopter. Montana Wildlife. January.
    • Atwell, G. 1964. Wolf predation on calf moose. J. Mammal. 45:313-314.
    • Baggs, K. 1977. Field inventory of wildlife resources. Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Wales Creek Interdisci-plinary Team Resource Analysis, WICHE Project 0117, Boulder, CO. 35 pp.
    • Boggs, Keith., , Field inventory of wildlife resources . . . WICHE Proj. No. D117. Spec. Oc./Habitat Type.
    • Bruns, E. H. 1977. Winter behavior of pronghorns in relation to habitat. J. Wildl. Manage. 41:560-571.
    • Camp Dresser & McKee, Inc., 1990, Stillwater Chromite Project Baseline Data Report: Hydrology and Wildlife Monitoring, Hydrology - November 1988 through November 1989, Wildlife - November 1988 through February 1990. June 30, 1990
    • Chadde, S., and C. Kay. 1988. Willows and moose: a study of grazing pressure, Slough Creek enclosure, Montana, 1961-1986.
    • Chester, J.M. 1976. Human-wildlife interactions in the Gallatin Range, Yellowstone National Park, 1973-1974. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 114 p.
    • Confluence Consulting Inc. 2010. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT.
    • Confluence Consulting Inc. 2011. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT.
    • Confluence Consulting Inc. 2012. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT.
    • Confluence Consulting Inc. 2013. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT.
    • Dorn, R. D. 1970. Moose and cattle food habits in southwest Montana. J. Wildl. Manage. 34:559-564.
    • Dorn, R.D. 1969. Relations of moose, cattle and willows in Southwestern Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 79 p.
    • Douglass, R. J. 1984. Distribution of elk, mule deer and moose in the vicinity of the proposed Beal project in western Montana. Unpubl. Rep., Montoro Gold Co., Reno, Nevada.
    • ECON, Inc., Helena, MT., 1987, Wildlife and habitat characterization, Paupers Dream Mine Project Site, Lewis & Clark and Jefferson Counties, Montana. June 25, 1987. In Pangea Mining Co., Inc., Paupers Dream Project.
    • Eng, R.L. and R.J. Mackie. 1996. Supplemental wildlife data collection: McDonald Gold Project.
    • Farmer, Patrick J., and Thomas W. Butts, Western Technology & Eng., Inc., Helena, MT., 1994, McDonald Project Terrestrial Wildlife Study, November 1989 - November 1993. April 1994. In McDonald Gold Project: Wildlife & Fisheries. [#18]. Seven-up Pete Joint Venture, Lincoln, MT. Unpub. No date.
    • Farmer, Patrick. J., et al., Western Technology and Eng., Inc., Helena, MT., 1984, Montana Tunnels Project Baseline Terrestrial Wildlife Study. December 14, 1984. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit, Montana Tunnels Project, Jefferson County, Montana. Vol. 3. Environmental Baseline Reports. (Centennial Minerals, Inc., Hydrometrics, 1984?)
    • Foresman, K.R. 2001. The wild mammals of Montana. American Society of Mammalogists, Special Publication Number 12. Lawrence, KS. 278 pp.
    • Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
    • Fraas, W.W. 1992. Bitterbrush growth and reproductive character in relation to browsing in southwest Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 137 p.
    • Franzmann, A. W. 1981. Alces alces. American Society of Mammalogists, Lawrence, KS. Mammalian Species No. 154:1-7.
    • Gaab, J. E., and B. Neal. 1948. Moose survey Upper Gallatin-Tom Miner Basin area. Montana Fish and Game Dept., P-R Quarterly Report. January-March:77-94.
    • Gasaway, W. C., et al. 1989. Response of radio-collared moose to a large burn in central Alaska. Can. J. Zool. 67:325-329.
    • Grigg, J.L. 2007. Gradients of predation risk affect distribution and migration of a large herbivore. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 94 p.
    • Grove, A.J. 1998. Effects of Douglas fir establishment in southwestern Montana mountain big sagebrush communities. M. Sc.Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 150 p.
    • Guenther, G.E. 1989. Ecological relationships of bitterbrush communities on the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 73 p.
    • Harry, G.B. 1955. Winter food habits of moose in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. M.S. thesis. C.S.U., Fort Collins, Colo. 98 pp.
    • Hoffman, T.L. 1996. An ecological investigation of mountain big sagebrush in the Gardiner Basin. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 84 p.
    • Hoffmann, R.S. and D.L. Pattie. 1968. A guide to Montana mammals: identification, habitat, distribution, and abundance. University of Montana, Missoula. 133 pp.
    • Jellison, W. L. 1936. The occurrence of the cestode, Moniezia benedeni (Anaplocephalidae) in the American moose. Proc. Helminthol. Soc. 3: 16.
    • Jellison, W. L. 1953. Brucellosis in a moose, Alces americanus. J. Wildt. Manage. 17:217-218.
    • Joslin, Gayle. 1980. Wildlife inventory and hard rock mining impact analysis of the West Cabinet Mountains and Lake Creek Valley, Lincoln County, Montana. MTFWP 91 pgs + 47 pgs app.
    • Knowlton, F. F. 1960. Food habits, movements, and populations of moose in the Gravelly Mountains, Montana. J. of Wildl. Manage. 24:162-170.
    • Knowlton, F.F. 1959. Food habits, movements and population structure of moose in the Gravelly Mountains, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Monatana State University. 27 p.
    • Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Camp Creek, Sula, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.039. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. I.
    • Luthy, F. M. and F. C. Zwickel. 1949. Summer food habits of the moose in Glacier National Park. Unpubl. Rep., Montana State University, Flathead Biological Station, Polson. 15 pp.
    • Mack J. A., and F. J. Singer. 1992. Predicted effects of wolf predation on Northern range elk, mule deer, and moose using POP-II models. Pp. 4-43 to 4-70 in Varley, I. D.' and W. G. Brewster, eds. Wolves for Yellowstone? A report to the United States Congress, vol. IV, Research and Analysis. Natl. Park Serv., Yellowstone National Park, WY. 749 pp.
    • Mack, I. A., F. J. Singer, and M. E. Messaros. 1990. The ungulate prey base for wolves in Yellowstone National Park II: elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats in the areas adjacent to the park. Pp. 2-41 to 2218 in Wolves for Yellowstone A report to the United States Congress, Vol. 2, Research and Analysis. Natl. Park Serv., Yellowstone National Park, WY.
    • Martin, Steve A., ECON, Inc., Helena, MT., 1982, Flathead Project Wildlife Report, 1981-1982. November 30, 1982.
    • Matchett, M. R. 1985. Habitat selection by moose in the Yaak River drainage, northwestern Montana. Alces 21: 161-189.
    • Matchett, M. R. 1985. Moose-habitat relationships in the Yaak River drainage, northwestern Montana. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 229 pp.
    • McDowell, L., and M. Marshall. 1942. Montana moose survey-Hellroaring, Buffalo, Slough Creek Unit. Montana Fish and Game Dept., Job Compl. Rep. 70 pp.
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    • McMillan, J. F. 1954. Summer home range and population size of moose in Yellowstone National Park. University of Wichita Bull. U. Studies No. 28. 16 pp.
    • McMillan, J.F. 1953. Some feeding habits of moose in Yellowstone National Park. Ecology 34:102-110.
    • McMillan, J.F. 1954. Some observations on moose in Yellowstone Park. Amer. Midland Nat. 52:392-399.
    • Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 1945-1992. Annual moose hunting and harvest statistics. Helena.
    • Montana Outfitters & Guides Association. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks., 2000, Predator management in Montana. Symposium proceedings, January 8, 2000.
    • Mussehl, T.W. and F.W. Howell (eds.). 1971. Game management in Montana. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Helena, Mont. 238 pp.
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