Misty morning with a few showers and a forecast for the rain to stop around noon. So after an early lunch H and I headed west looking for opportunities to photograph elk. It's been a strange and frustrating year for this elk photographer as most of the animals seem to have deserted their usual haunts.
When we got to the elk range it was still raining occasionally; rain alternating with mist and patches of blue sky. We went to a couple of areas we’ve seldom visited to see what we could see. On one hill we came upon a small flock of turkeys, two mature hens and their almost fully-grown poults. This has been a great year for the turkey population, the dry late spring/summer meant fewer young turkeys being lost to pneumonia. These birds were in no rush to leave us behind, as they slowly moved off most would hop up on a fallen log and then go further into the forest –
Now to go search for elk. We stopped at a wide spot where we had excellent views of distant meadows and reclaimed strip mines. Well over a half mile away, on the crest of a hill, there was a dark shape; the camera’s telephoto lens revealed it was an impressive bull elk –
We could drive into the valley below and, if H would wait for me, I’d climb the hill to the bull’s level. So off we went down into the valley, then H excitedly told me to stop. In a field that had previously been out of sight she’d seen two bull elk. So I temporarily put aside thoughts of the bull on the hill in favor of viewing and photographing these two. These were probably 2½ year old animals gradually working their way uphill as they fed –
After watching those bulls for a while, I decided to try for some photographs of the large bull on the ridge. Parking near the stream in the valley I headed uphill, first on an old road, then through knee-high dripping-wet goldenrod – a light mist was coming down again. The big bull, if he was still there, was out of sight.
I worked my way diagonally uphill in an effort to stay downwind of the bull. Approaching the ridgetop, antlers came into sight, a few more feet and more of the bull was visible –
Finally I was at his level as he continued feeding –
This was an impressively large-bodied animal, especially given that the rut had recently ended. During the rut mature bulls try to amass a harem of females which they then have to defend from other bulls. The stress and the energy expended during the rut, not to mention possible injuries, exhaust the bulls which then have only a few weeks to build reserves for the coming winter.
The bull suddenly looked up and stared directly at me –
When he took a few steps in my direction the decision was made. Discretion being the better part of valor, it was time for me to leave rather than face the testosterone he had remaining from the rut –
Although the photographs may look as if I was close to the elk, I was actually several hundred feet away and using the equivalent of an 800 millimeter lens on the camera (roughly similar to 16-power binoculars) and I then cropped most of the images.
Although the day was far from pleasant, spending time with H and the elk and the turkeys was still worth the drive and getting wet feet.