Walking on the Wild Side
Wake Up Call (Elk)
as written by Scot Bealer
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There is nothing quite as haunting as the call of a bull elk in the fall. It starts out as a whistle, morphs into a twisted scream, and ends with a series of deep bass grunts. Reverberating off the surrounding mountain sides, it is often followed by the call of a not too distant rival. The dueling calls can go on for hours, punctuated by periodic fights, and of course attempts to seduce the females that they work tirelessly to coral into tight “harems”. More often heard as a mystery in the distance, getting to watch the spectacle in person is a special treat.
While elk are found throughout the rocky mountains, places where you can reliably watch the ritual unfold are few and far between. One such location is in a remote part of the Charles M Russel National Wildlife Refuge. Last fall Lea and I towed the camper out to this area in hopes of watching, and more importantly getting some photographs of the bulls strutting their stuff. We heard the first “bugle” as we were just finishing setting up the camper. Our excitement grew as we saw a group of cows emerge into an aspen grove, followed in short order by two bulls. “Let the games begin!” I remember thinking to myself.
Call of the Wild (Elk)
Most people don’t realize that a major part of wildlife photography is waiting, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days and even weeks to get the shot. Finding the animals is only part of the equation. Getting them to be in just the right location for an amazing photo is something altogether different. For the entire afternoon and into the early evening the elk put on quite a show of bugling, fighting, prancing around, and even some X-rated action. Unfortunately this was all occurring inside a grove of trees. We could watch it all well enough, but the combination of too many tree trunks and heavy shade limited the quality of the pictures Lea was taking.
As the sun set, and the light level fell below what was needed for nice pics, Lea and I retreated to the camper to eat dinner. More elk emerged in the shadows, and we enjoyed the sounds of the wild, as we quietly ate and prepared to go to sleep. The elk had evidently been moving towards our campsite, because soon the calling seemed to be coming from every direction around the camper. By ten o’clock they were so close that we could hear the soft bleats of the cows in between the now very loud bugling of the bulls. Eleven o’clock and I was really sleepy, but we were kept up by the unmistakable clacking, rattling and ground shaking commotion as two bulls got into a big fight near the camper. Midnight. I’m tired, and would really like some sleep! The noises wouldn’t stop! I fought the urge to scream “GO GET A ROOM!” from the camper door. Eventually they either got tired, or moved off, and I finally drifted off to sleep.
Center of Attention (Elk)
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By the early pre-dawn we were woken up as it started up again, but this time they were a little further off in a sagebrush flat. Lea and I quickly gulped down some coffee, grabbed our gear, and moved out to a position that we thought might be good. As the sun crested the horizon, we watched as this stunning bull went full on display, perfectly lit up by the morning sun. Not only did we get to watch a great show, but Lea was able to get a series of wonderful shots.
May the sound of the elk bugle be forever etched in our minds,
Lea Frye - Wildlife Photographer
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www.leaf-images.com | Lea Frye, Wildlife Photographer | Helena, MT
Wild Animals / Wild Landscapes