Benewah County Magistrate Judge Doug Payne was driving along the St. Joe River outside St. Maries the week before Christmas when he saw another driver stopped near a bridge. Payne figured the man had car trouble and stopped to help. The man told Payne he’d spotted a moose cow stuck in the icy river below.
“I walked about a quarter mile downstream and saw the cow, hopelessly stuck in the ice,” said Payne.
Just her head and forelegs were visible. He could hear the cries of her nearby calf.
Payne didn’t trust the ice to walk on. River ice is scary, he said, because if you fall through, the current can pull you under the ice. Payne didn’t have a rope, so after waiting with the animal for around an hour, he drove back to St. Maries for help. He happened to pass Julie Lininger, a Fish and Game officer he knew who had gotten a call and was headed to the river. The two returned to the moose and flagged down a couple of drivers. Together, the four wrapped a nylon tow strap around the animal’s legs.
“At first, we couldn’t budge her,” Payne said. But after digging down and loosening the ice around the moose’s chest, they were able to free her.
“I didn’t think she would be able to stand because she’d been in the cold water for so long, but she popped right up,” Payne said.
The moose was not docile.
“We had just enough time to get the straps off. There were a few seconds there when it was no longer a rescue, just our evacuation,” Payne said.
The rescuers ran. The moose ran to find her calf. Payne returned to the river Dec. 26 and snapped a photo of the moose cow and calf on the river bank.
The moose incident was not Payne’s first animal rescue. Before moving to Idaho more than two decades ago, he lived in Colorado, where he would occasionally help the fish and game department with animal rescues. Before that, he worked on his dad’s cattle ranch in Texas.
“I pulled a lot of cattle out of the mud,” he said. He would also pull them out of frozen rivers from time to time. Often, they wouldn’t survive the cold.
“That was surprising about the moose being so active. We weren’t sure she would be able to make it up on her feet. Shows you how tough a moose is,” he said.