Stalking The Big Bull Elk
If you’ve never seen a big bull elk in the wild, you’re in for a treat. Though not as large or massive as the moose, a big bull elk is pretty good sized and a sight to behold. An elk can easily grow to 900 pounds, and with its massive antlers or “rack” appears just that much larger.
In Your Yard – Your chances of coming across a big bull elk are greater at times other than elk hunting season, or at least it certainly seems that way. If you live in the Rocky Mountains, you may wake up one morning to see a herd of elk in your front yard. Later in the summer you might spot a big bull elk or two, with a nice full set of antlers (which, by the way are shed annually and regrown the following year). Once hunting season begins, you’ll generally see neither hide nor hair of the big animals, as they head for higher locations and the cover they can find in thickly forested areas. You might be fortunate enough while driving along to see a big bull elk fording a river. That is a sight to behold. If you want to see them up close and personal however, your best bet is in the national parks.
Wilderness Elk – One such park is Olympic National Park, located on the Olympic peninsula west of Seattle in Washington State. Olympic National Park is home to a large herd of Roosevelt elk. The Roosevelt elk is a subspecies which is not native to Washington State but was introduced in the park in the early 20th century, and thrives in the protected area. Like many animals in a national park, the Roosevelt elk has become somewhat used to humans, and can be viewed at a reasonably close, but not too close, distance. It’s always a good idea to keep a respectful distance from a big bull elk, especially during the mating season. While the animal may act as if it were safe to come close enough to pet it, don’t even think about it.
City Elk – If you don’t want to go tramping though the wilderness in search of the big bull elk, which you usually will have to do in Olympic National Park, a better choice would be Yellowstone National Park. Near the northern boundary of Yellowstone you can often hear, and sometimes see, bull elk bugling. If you want to view elk from the comfort of your car, or while taking a leisurely stroll, the elk hang out in the vicinity of Mammoth Hot Springs near the north entrance of the park. If you leave the north entrance of the park, and drive a couple of miles to the town of Gardiner, Montana, you’ll see big bull elk, plus females, and youngsters as well, in all parts of the town. Standing on the steps of the local court house or resting in the lawns of businesses and residences, the elk have more or less taken up residency in the town. What happens when hunting season begins is anyone’s guess, as Gardiner is beyond the park’s boundaries. It could just be that the elk are smart enough to head for the park once the shooting starts.
Elk are believed to be related to the Asiatic red deer, and apparently crossed into North America about the same time that humans crossed the Bering Sea land bridge. The elk, or red deer, seemingly entered what is now the United States, along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana. At least there are ancient pictographs in the area showing that the early inhabitants were familiar with the animal. No doubt many a big bull elk fell to the early Native American hunters.
If you want to do a little research into all aspects of the elk and its habitat, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is a good place to start. You can either visit their web site or if convenient, their headquarters in Missoula, Montana and probably get all the big bull elk information you will ever need.