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Elk breeding season is about to begin and you can observe the bugling bulls in eastern Idaho

Living the Wild Life

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A deep, mature bugle coming from big bull elk from inside Harriman Park in the predawn light seemed to wake up the world last Tuesday morning. Squeaks and squaggles started coming from elk hunters on the south side of the Green Canyon Road that is the boundary between the “closed to hunting” area and the open Targhee Forest ground. The real bull elk started to bugle again but did not finish as he was interrupted by a poor-attempted call probably from a beginning elk hunter that had not honed his elk calling yet.

“There isn’t a lot of bulls talking right now as there seems to be more archery hunters than there are rocks and trees to hide behind in some places,” commented an experienced hunter. “In some places, you better bring your own tree or rock with you if you want to hide a little.”

It is time for the elk rut to begin as the bulls try to round up their harems of cows because the breeding season is just beginning.

“We just started our elk bugling rides this week into Harriman,” Margo Little told me on Thursday. “The bulls just started talking a little, but with the changing weather this weekend, the bulls should really get going next week.”

Little and her husband, Russ, run the Dry Ridge Outfitters on Harriman State Park and are guiding forays into the meadows and fingers of trees where the cow elk are herded by their royalty. They offer trips Monday through Saturday each week until the end of October by horseback and occasionally a horse-drawn wagon. They can be reached by calling (208) 558-7433.

One of my favorite areas to listen to and to observe the elk is on the Camas National Wildlife Refuge. I like to drive through the refuge, taking the road going past the old homestead barn, working my way to the southwest parking area near a large cornfield. From there, I listen for the bugling elk and hike the trails to the dried-up Rays Lake.

elk bugling 2

The elk love to feed in the scattered clumps of willows and then bed down in the tall sagebrush on the ridge tops so they can be aware of any strange two-legged critters.

Another spot I enjoy is to enter the refuge just southeast of Rays Lake as each day the elk will eventually move to Sandhole Lake where there is still water. I like to get there early in the morning and locate the bugling elk, then set up in some sagebrush or willows where several trails intersect and let the elk come to me.

This will be the second year that the pandemic has forced the cancellation of the annual “Bugles, Birds and Brunch” activity hosted by the Friends of Camas. Without this activity, individuals are on their own and social distancing on Camas can be a lot of fun.

Then, of course, there is always Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks to find bugling elk. In Mammoth, there is usually a lot of elk activity during September and October, but it is usually one of my least favorite places to see and photograph them. My favorite areas in the parks are from West Yellowstone to the Madison Junction where the elk fill the meadows along the Madison River and in Grand Teton, it is from the Jenny Lake area to Signal Mountain.

The Park requires you to stay at least 25 yards from elk and bison and asks that you never approach them, especially the bulls in the fall. Also remember that the same time the elk rut is going on, bears are very active putting on weight for their winter sleep. The safe distance requirement from bears and wolves is 100 yards. You do not want to end up as a decoration on elk antlers or brunch for the bears or wolves.

With the weather cooling off, the elk should really become active for the next three weeks. It is always fun to have five or six mature bulls announcing their availability. Enjoy some of it.