I started the morning of the last day of my fall hiking trip in 2006 with snow in the higher elevations of Yellowstone. I didn’t stay long as I’m not used to driving in snow and spent the rest of the day in the lower elevations, finishing the trip watching an elk herd in the Madison area while a steady rain fell. It was October so the rut was winding down and the scene was rather tranquil, this bull nuzzled one of the nearby cows as the rest of the herd lingered nearby. Although it ignored me and the others who watched from near the road, the bull did glance in my direction once while calling out.
It looked like this bull had six points on one antler and seven on the other. There was a ranger there who said the elk in this drainage weren’t living as long as the others, based on analysis of wolf kills they suspected minerals in the Madison River were making their bones brittle. Fortunately I was ready for the picture up top as within a minute the bull laid down to rest. Ten minutes after taking the picture below, I had to say my goodbyes as it was time to start the long drive back to Oregon.
There were several aspects I wanted to capture in this picture of an elk in Yellowstone National Park. There’s a slightly comical aspect in that the sleeping bull is almost invisible save for his antlers which stick up out of the tall grass and completely betray his presence. The bull isn’t really trying to hide, but I wondered if he wouldn’t have preferred at that moment to be able to just take the antlers off while he slept, if only so he could lay his head wherever and however he liked.
I also wanted to convey the exhaustion the bulls feel at the end of the rut. He slept most of the time I watched him, but couldn’t resist raising his head and answering the call whenever another bull bugled in the distance. Fortunately all of the people watching him kept their distance so he was able to rest in the quiet periods. A couple of weeks before I visited, one of the bulls had its neck snapped while it was sparring with one of the other bulls. These fights usually aren’t fatal, but add in disease, predators, and the long winter, and I do wonder how many of the animals I see will still be around come spring.