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

C M Russell Wildlife Refuge Provides Elk With Magnificent Stage

Elk-CMR-29©Bert Gildart: I am a few days behind in the dates ascribed to my posts, essentially because we have based ourselves in areas that have no connections, specifically Zortman, Montana.  The settlement is located in the Little Rockies and for this posting it must be noted that we are but a 40 minute drive from one of the nation’s greatest wildlife spectacles  -  the fall rut of elk, which here includes literally hundreds of these magnificent creatures.

The stage is the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, specifically the Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing area, which is immediately adjacent to where Adam, Sue, Janie and I took out from our seven-day float on the Missouri River one month ago.

It is here that Janie and I watched two nights ago as an estimated 300 elk materialized from stands of cottonwood trees, and then edged closer and closer until it seemed as though we had front seats at what could be  the photo opportunity of a lifetime.


The performance began about 5:30 p.m. but before you could see the elk, you could hear them and their famous bugling. Bull elk create the music and do so by tilting back their heads and emitting a sound that begins on a low note then progresses up the scale.  Finally, it ends with a guttural “Ugh, ugh.”   Hearing them is one thing, but when you hear not just one bull creating the sound but dozens, it blows your mind.

The purpose of the bugling – followed by aggressive gestures in which they use their antlers to blow up the dirt, “murder” small trees, or actually engage other bulls in battle – is intended to help each bull establish a territory.

Elk-CMR-30 Elk-CMR-33 Elk-CMR-32

L to R:  Bull elk establish a harem and warn other males to keep out by bugling, fighting and tearing up the ground; CMR attracts thousands annually, often to watch elk; six-point or “Royal” elk.


Here, in a space each bull must mentally define, he guards his developing harem, and woe be to any interloper, particularly to “the welterweights,” or to one whose spread of antlers is inferior – that enters this space. Presumably the genetically superior bull emerges victorious and it is he that passes on his genes.


We watched the display for about three hours and saw bulls whose antlers were represented by all the various descriptive nomenclature.  Biologists have created a system of classification. Bulls with six tines (most typically) are categorized as a Royal while those with seven or eight are categorized as an Imperial and Monarch, respectively. We saw them all, and most importantly from my perspective, I was able to photograph them all.  To obtain frame filling images I used lens ranging from 400 to 800mm.


Rounding up harem and warning other bulls to keep out.


Dramas such as this should be set on a stage of magnificence, and the CMR qualifies.  Encompassing about 1,100,000 acres, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge extends 125 miles east/west.  Lewis and Clark saw it first and described the area in glowing terms. The refuge was set aside in 1936 by President Roosevelt and, today, some call it the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge system.

They’ll get no arguments from us.




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3 Responses to “C M Russell Wildlife Refuge Provides Elk With Magnificent Stage”

  1. Tom & Sandi Palesch Says:

    Great place in our travel book. Sandi and I were there last year this time following the Lewis & Clark trail and enjoyed seeing the rut again. I interrupted a large wolf encounter with a free-range cow calf on our first visit ten years ago. Only thing missing from the L&C days are grizzlies. Still plenty of rattlers tho!

    Zortman is a funky little town with interesting history. Part of the old Outlaw Trail if I remember correctly!

  2. Tim Says:

    Hi Bert,
    If you are still interested in elk on the CMR Refuge, you might want to talk with the folks at http://www.landwehroutfitters.com. They’ve been guiding hunters on the refuge for a long time…might have some interesting stories for you, or some interesting locations to tell you about. They are clients of mine.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure Lewis and Clark were not the first to see the refuge (grin).

  3. The Ride From Hell | Bert Gildart: Writer and Photographer Says:

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