Where are all the elk? - East Idaho News
Living the Wild Life

Where are all the elk?

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Last Saturday, I joined four members of my extended family on a trip through Yellowstone National Park in search of some bugling elk – we did not hear a single one. We did see four of them, three glimpses and one lazy rag-horn bull trying to hide from an aggressive cell phone photographer.

Contrary to what some of you may think, every time I go out in the wilds does not mean I end up with a successful outing. In fact this year I have had to work extremely hard to come up with articles. Just like Saturday, it seemed like we were always five minutes behind capturing great photos and/or a story.

On the way into Yellowstone, we missed a bull elk along the Madison River “by five minutes,” and at Mammoth, we missed a herd of elk “by five minutes” that went south, “but will be back in one to four hours,” a ranger told us. We did not want to wait for them to return, so we headed for the Lamar Valley where we missed seeing two wolves near the road “by five minutes.” On the way out of the park, we also got into a “grizzly-jam” but missed seeing it “by five minutes.”

Bison Mom
A cow bison looking at the photographer from about 14 inches away while she stopped to let her calf have a snack. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

The day in Yellowstone was reminiscent of my search for bugling elk this year in the usual places that I have found them in the past. Three days spent hiking across the prickly pear-infested landscape of Camas National Wildlife Refuge in the last two weeks has resulted in seeing four elk and hearing two short bugling episodes. Reports from three bow hunters in Island Park tell me “the elk are not talking, yet,” and hikers in Grand Teton National Park have not seen much elk activity.

There are as many reasons why the elk are not being seen or heard as there are people willing to discuss it. The most reasons are, “everything is two weeks to a month behind this year,” to “last winter was hard on them and they all died.” Then there are those who must find someone to blame for the changes that happen, but we are not going to go there.

My hiking across Camas has been successful as I play tag with coyotes, shorebirds, waterfowl, sunrises and sunsets. Our trip to Yellowstone was also a success as we were able to watch the young Harlequin ducks playing in the LaHardy Rapids and we got caught in a “bison jam.” While waiting for the bison to cross the road, a cow with a calf decided to walk up to my open window. I greeted her with a, “Good morning, beautiful.” She stopped, looked at me and let her calf have a snack before moving on.

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Two of three wolves heading for a carcass behind some trees.

She was up close and very personal.

We also were able to see three wolves, even though they were more than a half of a mile away. But it was great to be able to see them. It will tempt me to head back into Yellowstone for another visit.

Yellowstone Crowd
The wolves drew a crowd even though they were a half of a mile away. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

If the weatherman’s predicted killing frost this next week happens, there will be major changes happening. The elk may show up and start talking, gardening will end, people will become serious about getting in their firewood and the “big” birds will start getting ready to head south.

It may be just the answer to the prayers of The Friends of Camas as they celebrate their Birds, Bugles and Brunch activity next Saturday at Camas National Wildlife Refuge, which usually happens after most of the bugling is over. With a free brunch and hourly wagon rides out through the roads closed to vehicle traffic, elk may not only be seen, but also heard. Could be a wonderful time to spend a nippy Saturday.

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Four young Harlequin ducks resting after playing in the LaHardy Rapids in Yellowstone Park. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

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