A pair of bull moose walked together out on the ice of north Marquette County’s Silver Lake Basin on the morning of December 19, 2010. They paralleled one another for a while, but eventually faced off and started fighting. Clumps of hair dislodged by their antlers lay on the ice where part of the battle was waged.
As the battling bulls moved further from shore, the ice they stood on got thinner and thinner until it could no longer hold their combined weight (1,400 to 1,800 pounds). The pair of moose ended up in the water fighting for their lives instead of each other. The weaker of the two bulls lost its struggle and died somewhere under the ice.
Meanwhile, friends Larry Grigg and Kevin Bureau were snowmobiling toward Silver Lake Basin, hoping to see some moose to photograph. Grigg lives near the basin and Bureau resides in Ishpeming. They were seeing lots of moose tracks in the snow, so they were optimistic about accomplishing their goal, but neither of them had a clue what they were about to encounter.
Larry got the first hint of what lie ahead as they approached the frozen basin. He noticed something brown on the ice toward the dam and whatever it was, it was moving.
As they drew closer Larry said, “Look, there’s a moose in the lake!”
It was just before 1 p.m. when the men spotted the bull in the water. They stopped their machines and walked toward it, seeing the pair of fresh moose tracks that were similar in size leading out on the ice. Further on they saw evidence of the fight that took place between the bulls.
With only one bull visible in the water and no moose tracks leaving the ice, Grigg and Bureau assumed the second bull got pushed under the ice by the one that was still alive. After making a cell phone call to central dispatch to try to alert the DNRE about the surviving bull, Grigg and Bureau used a rope to try to pull the moose onto the ice, but they were unable to. Then four snowmobilers from Negaunee arrived on the scene and they joined in the rescue effort. The reinforcements were Ryan Pizziola, Mark Maki, Jason Mattson and Jason Young.
“We had heavy duty rope that was stronger than the one the other guys were using to try to pull the moose out of the water,” Pizziola said. “They are snowmobile recovery ropes that we use to tow a snowmobile out of the woods in case one breaks down. They are about 12 feet long. We tied two of them together to use to try to pull the moose out of the water.
“It was obvious that the moose was getting weak by the time we got there. If we were going to save him, we had to do something right away. There wasn’t time to wait for the DNR to get there.”
The sturdy rope was fastened to the moose’s antlers and then the six men managed to pull the exhausted bull onto the ice, but it took considerable time and effort.
“When the bull was upright in the water, his front legs proved to be a problem as far as being able to pull him on the ice,” Pizziola said. “His chest or legs would hit the edge of the ice, preventing us from pulling him further. One time he turned on his left shoulder and we were able to pull him up on the ice. Then the ice broke under his weight.”
That happened two more times before the six man team was finally able to get the moose up on ice that held under his weight.
“We cut the rope as soon as we got it out of the water in case he was mad,” Grigg said. “He was so exhausted he didn’t do anything. So we went back out and tied him back up and pulled him 75 yards closer to shore.”
The four snowmobilers from Negaunee continued on their way after the moose was rescued while Grigg and Bureau remained with the bull, hoping to see it stand and walk off. The animal was still resting on the ice when the pair left at dark. Everyone in the rescue party was concerned about the bull’s vulnerability to wolves in his weakened state.
Pizziola returned to the scene at 8:30 p.m. and the bull was gone by then. He said he followed the bull’s tracks for two miles in the dark and it appeared to be doing fine. Grigg and Bureau returned to the scene on Monday morning to also confirm the bull had recovered and was doing fine. They followed the bull’s tracks, too, to verify that.
The men who rescued that moose should be applauded for what they did, but, as amazing as it might seem, the moose rescuers have received some criticism for their good deed. As Ryan Pizziola put it so well, they didn’t hesitate when it came to helping the struggling moose.
“We wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if we hadn’t done something to try to save that animal. All six of us are outdoorsmen. We are hunters and fishermen. We take fish and game from the area when we get the chance. This was our chance to give something back.”
Kevin Bureau said the rescue effort was an adventure that he was glad to be a part of. There’s no doubt in any of the men’s minds that they did the right thing.
Bureau added that there appears to be 15 to 20 moose wintering in the vicinity of Silver Lake Basin. He and Grigg saw a lot of moose tracks during their travels there and back. There’s certainly one more than there would have been without their efforts.