ANCHORAGE — A large bull moose spent more than an hour stomping on the sled dog team of a rookie Iditarod musher in the wilds of Alaska last week — and the attack didn’t end even after Bridgett Watkins emptied her gun into the animal.
She said on Facebook Friday that the moose, after seriously injuring four of her dogs, wouldn’t leave and that the ordeal stopped only after she called friends for help and one showed up with a larger caliber gun and killed the moose.
“This has been the most horrific past 24 hours of my life,” she posted after the Thursday moose attack on the Salcha River trail system near Fairbanks.
Watkins wrote that the attack, first reported by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, happened while she was on a 52-mile (83.7-kilometer) training run for the nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. It starts March 5 in Anchorage.
“As he charged me I emptied my gun into him and he never stopped,” she wrote on Facebook. “I ran for my life and prayed I was fast enough to not be killed in that moment. He trampled the team and then turned for us.”
Watkins, who didn’t immediately respond to messages Tuesday to The Associated Press, said she and a friend who was trailing her on a snowmobile took refuge next to the snowmobile.
The moose stopped its charge toward them about 2 feet (0.6 meters) from the snowmobile and she managed to cut free six dogs that were tied to the machine.
But the moose went back to her sled and began stomping the dogs that were still tethered to it — standing over the dogs and trampling them repeatedly for over an hour.
“I have never felt so helpless in my life,” Watkins wrote. “He would not leave us alone and he even stood over top of the team refusing to retreat.”
She called friends and the moose was shot and killed after one arrived with a rifle.
Alaska State Troopers had been preparing a helicopter to respond but stopped doing so after they were told the moose was dead, agency spokesperson Tim DeSpain said in an email.
Her four injured dogs were taken to a veterinarian in the nearby community of North Pole and are recovering, Watkins posted.
Watkins, a native of Arkansas who moved to Alaska when she was 5, is no stranger to mushing or its dangers. Her father and step-mother are well-known mushers Allen Moore and Aliy Zirkle.
In the 2016 Iditarod, Zirkle and four-time winner Jeff King were attacked by a man on a snowmobile near the community of Nulato. One dog on King’s team was killed and two others were injured.
Another famous tale of a musher’s run-in with an angry moose happened in the 1985 Iditarod — when the late Susan Butcher came across one while she was leading the race.
She used her ax and a parka to fight off the moose, but it killed two of her dogs and injured 13 others. Another musher came along and killed the moose.
She had to withdraw from the race, but later won four Iditarod races. Butcher died in 2006 from leukemia at age 51.
Watkins posted that she managed to start training with her dogs again on Monday and had advice after her moose encounter: “Carry a bigger gun.”