The baby moose looked like it was born that day, small and frail, about 25 pounds. Thanks to two fast-acting anglers on the Big Hole River, the little moose will live another day.
Karen Sciascia, a practicing gynecologist from Pennsylvania who has delivered thousands of human babies, and Twin Bridges river guide Seth McLean, were fishing the Big Hole this week when they encountered a cow moose with a calf.
The river was swollen and flowing fast. The two animals were looking for a way across.
“We were watching this adult female struggling back and forth, and we didn’t see a baby until we got close,” Sciascia said. “Mom kept pushing – the current was pretty swift. The mother bolted and took off across the river. She was trying to get across the main portion of the channel, and even she struggled.”
As Sciascia tells it, the mother made it across the swift river. The calf was soon to follow. It left its rocky perch and stepped into the water.
When it hit the current, however, the small calf was swept away. The force of the water sent it tumbling downstream.
“It was small and the river was swift,” Sciascia said. “We lost sight of the baby. It was hurtling downstream and was being pushed by the river. It was too small to ever fight the current.”
The cow looked on from the distant bank as the river carried away its calf. Sciascia and McLean set their raft into the current and raced downstream, beginning their own search for the newborn.
It wasn’t easy to spot, as small as it was. When they saw it, it was ready to go under for what they feared would be the last time. The clock was ticking.
“We found it with its little nose just above the water,” Sciascia said. “We got up alongside it and I just grabbed the little bugger. I scooped it up from the river under its front legs.”
A photo snapped in the moment will forever preserve the adventure – a fast river, great fishing, an inflatable raft and a dripping wet moose calf no bigger than a large dog.
“I tried to hold it out, not wanting to get my scent all over it, but it was basically limp,” she said. “It was breathing, and with my hand on its chest, I could feel its heart beating real fast.”
McLean turned the raft back against the current and rowed upstream. They reached the bank where the mother had disappeared into the woods, then reappeared at the sound of her bleating calf.
The small animal was crying. It sounded like a puppy, Sciascia said. She’d never heard anything like it. But then again, she’d never held a moose.
“When we last saw her, we were heading downstream,” she said. “The mother was heading toward it. She had come out of the woods and was heading toward her baby.”
Four Rivers Fishing Co. posted the story on its Facebook page Wednesday. Nearly 200 people had “liked” news of the rescue by afternoon, not to mention one cow moose and her calf.
“Having delivered so many babies, it was like every other day to me, though it was a different modality,” said Sciascia. “It was cool to be in the right place at the right time.”