It’s a most magical time of year in the mountains. A time when wildlife is getting ready for winter, leaves are turning from green to rainbows and romance is in the air. This romance is also known as the rut. The rut is mating season for elk, bighorn sheep, deer, bison and other ruminant animals. This time of year brings bugling, fights for dominance, males herding large groups of females and just so much more activity than usual. People come from all over the world to witness this behavior change and enjoy the scenery. I know in years past I did the same. But this year was special! Because the rut now takes place right outside our home.
If you plan to come out west during rutting season, do so cautiously. An animal in rut is a dangerous animal. Hormones are all over the place. The fight for dominance is a battle. This is the time of year when elk hurt people happily. Don’t get in the way of an animal during mating season. A great rule of thumb is this: Hold your thumb in front of your face- arm fully extended. Try to cover your subject with it. If your thumb covers up the whole animal, you’re good. If you can still see parts of the animal, you’re too close. These guys can charge extremely quickly and with very little warning. Better safe than sorry when it comes to such majestic beasts.
This series of photos is my time spent with a male elk. He was hormonal and agitated by the full-swing-rut. He was also the largest elk I have ever viewed. Let alone be near and capture. I was in awe and still am; he was much taller than me. His antlers were huge. His voice was jarring and loud. His queues were clear. I stayed while I could, and left him when he made it clear to me that I was not welcome on his land.
Jon- my husband, adventure partner, one true love and photography driver, spotted this elk as we were taking an early morning drive. He pulled over for me and gave me quite the look as I hopped out of the vehicle to take some photographs. Everyone knows The Look, right? The look of “you’re not being too smart. This is a wild animal. Get in the car.” I like to think of it as the look of sanity in an odd situation. Sometimes I give him The Look... but its normally him giving it to me. What can I say?
This elk was bugling and didn’t pay much attention to me. He slowly wandered off into the forest below. I felt some slight disappointment, having gotten a few photographs and witnessing a little less activity than I had hoped for. I returned to the vehicle and we started to drive off. That’s when I spotted him again. Near the road, but below in the forest. He was munching some grass and seemed calm.
Much to the dismay of husband, I hopped out of the car. This elk seemed far enough away that he wasn’t too much of a concern. I snapped a couple photos and then he noticed me. He raised his head and I saw his nostrils begin to flair. Sniffing me. A bit of a warning sign to get out of there. He started to come towards me. Very slowly, but very steadily. I backed up and kept snapping. Hoping that one of these photos would turn out. I was excited just to be in the presence of such a massive animal. And being this close really gave me a new perspective on his size. I felt tiny.
Below are three photos I took during this encounter. When he noticed me, when he started coming forward and when I knew I needed to get in the car and leave him alone. His expressions and body language say it all.
The photograph below is a young elk. He is still in velvet and didn’t seem to mind me whatsoever. Next year he may be as big as my elk friend above, but this year he was a little guy. Elk rut 2017 has been very fun to watch and photograph. It’s been insightful and inspiring. Isn’t nature amazing?