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It’s thrilling to hear the bugling bull elk at Camas Wildlife Refuge

Living the Wild Life

Living the Wild Life is brought to you by The Healing Sanctuary.

As I was trying to sneak up on a herd of elk through some very tall sagebrush, I heard a slight noise behind the thick brush to my left. I paused, then all heck broke loose. I had walked into the middle of about a dozen young bulls that began running helter-skelter through the thicket. I yelled at them and a young two-by-two bull headed towards me put the skids on, stopped and peered over a sagebrush about 15 yards away.

The young bulls quickly joined the main herd of elk that has made their home at Camas National Wildlife Refuge. I was about a quarter of a mile from the herd as other small groups of elk worked themselves toward them. The herd bulls were busy bugling and chasing the young bulls away from their cows. As I watched them, many of the bachelor bulls moved around me, making their way back to the only water on the refuge, Sandhole Lake. With most of the single bulls gone, the herd finally separated into groups of about 20 cows and calves with a herd bull and a couple immature bulls staying close to them.

Heading back to my truck, I walked through another pocket of sage where I jumped a nice bull that walked with a limp. I assumed he had tangled with one of the large herd bulls and lost the fight because he was hiding out near the water as he healed.

With all the work being done at Camas this summer on the dikes, roads, the drilling of new wells, and the lack of water in the other ponds, most of the elk had moved to the east side of the refuge. Here they have cover, food and water and have changed their rutting habits from where they have been for the past seasons. It will be interesting to see what will happen as the new wells become operational.

sandhill cranes
Three sandhill cranes leaving Sandhole Lake going out in the stubble fields to eat. | Bill Schiess,

As I had begun my trek into Sandhole Lake Tuesday morning just before the sun came up, the sounds of the bugling elk were drowned out by the thousands of birds at the lake. Sandhill cranes, Canada geese, ducks and shorebirds were all waking up just as the sun came up with most heading to the harvested grain fields. I saw my first elk of the morning, a cow and two calves across the lake topping off their water tanks for the day.

I had not been hiking the eastern part of the refuge for several years and did not know where the elks traveling trails were. The elk usually spend the fall in the southwestern area along the private property and are easy to get to by driving the roads to the parking spots. This trek on Tuesday was not very accessible.

It was about a two-mile hike to Sandhole and another two-mile hike to where the elk were. I am planning on an evening trip in the next week. It is thrilling to listen to 40 bull elk bugling. I am sure that they come into the lake to drink in the evening, and I will be sitting, hidden in the willows as they show up.

As I got close to my truck, it seemed like all the birds had filled their belly’s with grain and were thirsty. It was thrilling to see the sky filled with sandhill cranes and Canada geese making their way back to the water. It was a wonderful way to spend a very nice fall day. Hopefully more will come in the next couple of weeks.

A seven-by-seven point bull elk rounding up his herd of cows and calves. | Bill Schiess,

elk herd
Part of a herd of over 100 elk that makes their home on Camas National Wildlife Refuge. | Bill Schiess,

bull elk 2
An injured bull elk hiding in some tall sagebrush near Sandhole Lake at Camas. | Bill Schiess,

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