It’s a great time of year to watch the elk, but don’t get too close or you may be awarded with a few holes
As I parked my truck in the pre-dawn light, even my age-old aidless ears could hear a lovesick bull elk bugling in the distance. It sounded like the bull was on the north trail, moving back from its nighttime feeding area to a willow infested corner to hide out during the day.
By the time I left the truck, another bull answered the first from about a half mile away to the south. The recent drop in temperature and the rains had awakened the reproductive juices in the bull elk population and getting in the middle of chaos is one of my favorite activities of the year.
Trying to stay hidden or in low areas, I quickly hiked the mile to my favorite spot where three major trails diverged near a meadow/willow hideout for the elk during the day. I could hear occasional bugles from bulls on all three trails as I settled between three willows; two small ones to conceal me and a large one to allow me to escape from an attack. I did not want to be skewered by a love-sick bull that thought I was his competition.
It appeared as if all three herds of elk arrived at my spot at the same time. I was surrounded by elk. Two pairs of bulls decided to start fighting, while a male chorus of tenors, baritones and basses resembled an out-of-tune male Tabernacle Choir with me as their only guest.
Most of the elk stayed hidden throughout the willows, but I had a clear shot of the meadow where the elk were moving back and forth about 40 yards away. The young bulls were being chased by the older bulls and the cows and calves tended to ignore the follies of the boys. It was just a little early for the girls to join in the reproductive yearly ritual.
While lying on my belly, shooting pictures through the sleeve of my rain jacket as it started to rain, I heard a noise behind me. I rolled enough to see a spike bull staring at me from 10 yards away. He snorted and trotted off, probably not recognizing me as a human. But in the process of rolling, I had embedded a prickly pear thorn in my hip and was trying to remove the discomforting spine just as a herd of elk moved through the meadow.
It appeared that many of the cows and calves had detected a strange scent, probably from the garlic bread I had eaten the night before, and they were looking for the origin of the smell. The first to recognize my hiding place was a small calf, but none of the rest of them paid any attention to it.
As the rain increased, I became soaked and decided to end my misery and stood up. All heck broke loose. The bulls even woke up from their time-induced stupor, stopping long enough to allow me a few parting shots of them.
If you want to listen to and observe the elk during this age old continuance of life, some of the best places to do it are at Harriman State Park where Dry Ridge outfitters guide daily trips to watch the elk, Yellowstone National Park, the back portions of Market Lake, Camas National Wildlife Refuge and Mud Lake. You can also park near area elk ranches and watch and listen to the elk from the confines of your vehicle.
Be safe out there, as every year a tourist in Yellowstone will get too close to a love-sick bull and will be awarded with a few holes poked in them. I prefer working with elk that are wild and have a natural fear of me once they recognize that I represent danger. But I still have an avenue of escape. If you are listening for elk around Harriman, many of the bugles coming from off the park boundary may not be elk, but hunters trying to entice them to come and play off the park.
This time of the year is very exciting out in the wilds. For the next month is the breeding time for many species when the males loose much of their caution and can be watched. It is also the time for migrations of both birds, insects and animals moving from higher elevations to lower ones or moving to the warmer places.
I hope to meet some of you out in the wilds as I crawl, hide in weird places and walk the deserts and mountains looking for and recording all the activities that await us in the beautiful world. Be Safe!