By SCOTT McMILLION Chronicle Staff Writer
The Bozeman Daily ChronicleCharlie Totten was late for his own birthday party, but he had a good excuse.
It was Sunday afternoon when Melissa Totten's phone rang. Her husband, Charlie, was on his cell phone, telling her he'd be late for his 38th birthday celebration.
He was calling from a treetop on the Gallatin River, where he'd taken refuge from a bull moose on the rampage.
"He said, 'We're sort of being stalked by this moose and I'm not going to be home by 3 like I said,'" Melissa Totten said.
The incident began early Sunday afternoon when Charlie Totten, the Sweet Pea Cafe chef, and his friend, Dave Weston, 37, a Zoot Enterprises project manager, set out to hunt morel mushrooms along the Gallatin, about three miles north of Huffine Lane.
They were on an island in the river when they ran into the moose, a male about 2 years old. All parties seemed equally surprised at the close-range encounter, and the two men immediately began backing away.
But the moose came after them, his head down and his neck hairs flared.
"He picked up his pace," Weston said. "We scrambled."
Weston shinnied up an aspen tree. Totten mounted a 3-foot stump.
The moose keyed in on Totten.
"He sort of circled him, about 15 feet out, stomping his feet," Weston said.
Weston started yelling and caught the moose's attention long enough for Totten to scramble up a tree, too.
Meanwhile, the moose approached Weston's tree and rose on his hind legs, waving his front feet.
"I think it was just a show of aggression" Weston said. "It definitely scared the daylights out of me."
They remained in their perches for about half an hour, and when the moose moved north, they descended and walked south.
But when they got to the tip of the island, the swollen river was moving too quickly to cross safely. Aiming for the downed logs they had used to cross the channel earlier, the two men turned north.
But they made it only a few steps before the moose came snorting out of the bushes. Weston climbed a tree and Totten took refuge in the branches of a fallen tree hanging over a channel of the river.
"The moose came to my tree and looked right up at me," Weston said.
Then a pattern started. The moose would back off a little and the men would try to move on. Then the moose would approach, and they'd shinny up a tree again.