See the elk toot their own horn in full splendor at Camas National Wildlife Refuge

Living the Wild Life

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Photos courtesy Bill Schiess

As I started my hike from the southeast corner of Camas National Wildlife Refuge as the sun was rising, the air was filled with sounds of music. A lone bull elk was tooting his deep-throated bugle while Sandhill cranes, Canada geese, Mallards and even a male Ring-necked pheasant were welcoming the glowing red orbit as it rose to start a new day.

Hiding in the big sage along an elk beaten path, I waited for the Wapiti to travel past me from the lush green alfalfa fields to a watering place at the Sandhole Lake. It didn’t take long as the bulls followed the cows. The rut was just starting and the young bulls ran hither, thither and yon through the herd as they were experiencing their first feelings and smells of the annual breeding season.

Still a little too early in the season to get serious about the whole situation, the big bulls leisurely walked along with the cows except to occasionally give the beginners a little poke in the ribs when they became irritated. Another week and it will be a different story. The rut will coincide with another annual happening.

On Saturday, September 22, the Friends of Camas will be holding the 5th Annual Birds, Bugles and Brunch from 8 a.m. until noon at Camas National Wildlife Refuge. An early bird hayride will begin at 7:30 to kick off the festivities before the guided bird walks and hourly hayrides through the vehicle-closed areas of the refuge start.

“One day last week the elk were very active, but it was still a little early and the event should time with the rut perfectly,” Brian Wehausen, manager of Camas NWR, said. “We still have water running into some of the ponds but I am really pleased with the water still ponded up throughout the refuge.”

During the morning of the event, there will be youth activities like bird house building and invertebrate discovery. At 9:30 will be a program to celebrate the life for Friends of Camas founder, Nancy Maxwell, and a dedication of the John Braasted Pollinator Garden at the headquarters. A free brunch will be served for those that RSVP the organization at If you want to participate on the hayrides, you can contact or call him at (208) 662-5423.

This activity will be a great way to be introduced to the Camas NWR so that you may explore it on your own. For those limited to vehicles, many birds, white-tailed deer, coyotes and weasels are common wildlife to see. Recently, Wylie Powell and I were able to observe five whitetails, four sandhill cranes and three sage grouse in the same small area.

During this time of the year I enjoy getting to the refuge as the sun rises and hike to the areas where I think the elk may be celebrating the annual rut. It is a thrill to watch bulls fight within 100 yards of my hiding place or watch two cows begin boxing each other over a preferred bull. I just follow the sounds of the bugles and sneak up over the little sandy ridges.

It is well worth the few pricks one gets from the numerous prickly pears waiting to draw a little blood from me. The next three weeks will find me several times each week looking for excitement at Camas.