June 07, 1999 12:00 PM

It’s 6:30 a.m., and dawn is breaking over die 30,000 acres of Jack and Ann Hirschy’s Montana ranch, time for everybody to gather in the cookhouse for breakfast. Everybody, that is, except Mike, who stands outside looking forlorn, his nose pressed against the window, begging for pancakes.

But don’t feel sorry for Mike; he already weighs more than 800 pounds. In fact, he’s a real moose, and he’ll eat just about anything, from potato chips to cat food to fruit loops—though he doesn’t care for French toast. “He spits that right out,” says Dave Hickman, the cook. “I think it might be the cinnamon and nutmeg.”

Mike, who stands over six feet, was a baby when the Hirschys adopted him two years ago after his mother abandoned him. “He was newborn and looking for his mama, running up to the cattle trying to nurse,” says Ann Hirschy, 77. “He was getting weak.” Hirschy fed Mike warm milk every two hours and soon became his adopted mother. “Mike would follow me to the house,” she says.

Though Mike never had a moose-size accident on her carpets, he is a bit large for a house pet, so Ann eventually had to keep him outside. “He still wants to come in,” she says, and he licks the windows to get her attention.

While it is illegal to take wild animals captive, Joel Peterson, regional wildlife manager for the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, says the Hirschys (who had previously adopted a moose named Hannibal in 1989) are in the clear because Mike would have died if they hadn’t taken him in. And, anyway, Mike isn’t going to stay around forever; moose puberty hits soon, and then he’ll take off in search of a mate, just like Hannibal did. “You miss them,” says Hirschy, “but you want them to do their own thing and be happy.” And to call home every now and again.

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