Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Beware! Tis the Season of the Elk

© Bert Gildart: Here in Jasper National Park, Alberta, it is the season of the elk, and if you are interested in the story of enraged bulls, yesterday, there was no better place in the world to be than in this park’s Whistler Campground. So much activity was occurring that we decided to simply remain in the campground throughout the day.

"Keep out!" says this bull elk

"Keep out!" says this bull elk

Climax of the activities was toward the end of the day when dozens of people in cars and motorhomes gathered along a meadow, hoping to capture the drama on film. Most had no idea how to go about doing that, and one poor woman walked into the midst of the elk herd and was immediately charged by a huge and completely enraged bull. Just barely the lady made it back toward the tiny road and to our parked vehicle, which we had been using as a barrier. Unbelievably, she jumped into the back seat-but then she was terrified almost beyond belief. These are huge animals and some bulls can weigh more than 800 pounds and average eight feet in length.

The bull was enraged, and when the driver in a pickup camper inched closer for better photos, the bull turned his wrath on it, clubbing the sides several times with the tines of his dagger sharp antlers. The driver had made the mistake of moving, and by this motion, the bull sensed intrusion.


Signs, of course, are posted all over the campground, and the first bit of cautionary advice attendants provide campers is to beware of the rutting elk. “Don’t get too close,” they say. “At this time of year, elk can be dangerous. Very dangerous!”

Elk issues challenging call

Elk issues challenging call

Cause of all this aggression is basic and easy to understand. The amount of light per day is changing and it is growing cooler. These seasonal events stimulate the pituitary which in turn stimulates the release of testosterone into the circulatory system. In bulls it causes their necks to swell and generally creates much unrest. They are in a mating mode and are now looking for their source of affection.

The object of their affection is, of course, the cows, and bulls are looking not for just one cow but for lots of them-and yesterday, all these factors were present. Here were bulls with their harems, and the bulls were determined to maintain supremacy.

Mr. 8X7

Wandering throughout the campground were about 40 cow elk and several bulls. One bull was an 8×7, meaning that it had eight tines on one side and seven on the other. The bull was a monster and it was the one that had gathered in this harem of 11 cows; it was the one that was trying to prevent the intrusion of the other two males-and anything else it perceived as a threat.

Bulls prevent intrusion in several ways, and it was these techniques we saw yesterday. When Mr. 8×7 sensed the presence of another bull, he went crazy. First he reared back his head and voiced his anger using a threatening call known as “the bugle.”

In elk country the sound is unmistakable and it begins on a low note and then concludes with a high sibilant cry, finally punctuated with an “Uhhh; uhhh!” There’s absolutely no mistaking it!

Mr. 8×7 was particularly enraged and it began pawing at the earth; then it bashed a tree with its antlers and tried to murder it.

Bull elk murdering log

Bull elk murdering log

Then he began looking around for an antagonist. It saw me, and it raised its head in anger, but I was at a safe distance with a long telephoto lens, unlike the lady using the small camera who had been attempting to capture all this excitement from a distance of about five feet.


That brings us to late in the afternoon, and Mr. 8×7 is still angry. His challenge has been met several times but he had successfully used his antlers to chase other bulls away from his ladies.

Elk attacking pickup camper

Elk attacking pickup camper

If he had been unsuccessful, the bulls might have fought, but by this date in late September, dominance had apparently been determined, probably by fights that occurred before we arrived.

But Mr. 8×7 remained enraged, and was using his antlers to gouge several more pickup campers and more than once he charged other spectators (not me!) whom he felt were threats to his supremacy. As well, he charged a moving school bus that had apparently brought children out from one of the local schools. Everyone wants to be part of the excitement.

Warden hazes elk

Warden hazes elk

Finally, realizing a real danger, a park warden (The Canadian equivalent of park rangers) moved in and spent the better part of an hour hazing elk from the meadow. Mostly he was intent on moving the cows, knowing that where ever they go, the bulls won’t be far behind.

It is, after all, the season of the elk, something that must be viewed with some circumspect and a little prudence.


*Airstream camping in Yellowstone


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