Monday, December 02, 2013

End of season elking

I thought Chad and I were done looking for elk this season.  Then I discovered that he had gotten a Cow tag in the hunting permit lottery and was going out looking for one.  The hunting season for bulls is over and they don't give many Cow tags out.  I guess they are just for managing the populations and not letting them get out of control.  Someone has to do the job that wolves and mountain lions were meant to do.

We went out this morning armed only with my camera (no rifle). Just as well.  We never saw a female elk the entire time.  We did see 15 bull elk, all of which were big and quite impressive.  How is it that when you are hunting bulls, you see cows and when you are hunting cows, you see bulls everywhere?  Do elk know the Utah hunting laws?
Sometimes I am very proud of the photos I shoot.  Other times it takes a lot of work and some very nice camera equipment, just to get something very mediocre.  This was one of those days.  The closest we ever got to these elk was about 300 yards.  Some were more like 600 yards away.  It was a very cloudy morning and the sun, were you to find it in the clouds, hadn't come over the hills yet. (We start hiking in the dark)  I had a huge, heavy  500mm lens but no tripod.  The fact that you can tell that these are elk is a tribute to modern camera technology.
During the rut, these bulls are fighting it out for the attention of the females.  Once the sex dries up and the females head off, these guys all hang out together.  Here we have four big bulls heading off up the hill.  Notice that the lowest one has already dropped one of his antlers.  I wonder if his peers make fun of Old Lefty?
The most interesting find of the day came very early.  As we were walking to the secret area where Chad had seen elk before, we stumbled on to this one lying on the ground.  We assumed he was just napping, but elk are very unlikely to get caught off guard.  They are extremely skittish and have sensitive ears and noses.  As we got closer, we realized he was awake but clearly in some form of distress.
We got close enough that I couldn't even get a photo with my telephoto lens.  This was shot with my iPhone.  Our best guess is that he had been shot by a hunter and was close to death.  We planned to report him to the rangers who would come and end his suffering.
We stopped by on our way back to the car and he was still there. However, as Chad got close, he stood up, wobbled a bit, and then trotted on off up the hill.  We checked where he had been laying and couldn't find signs of blood.

So, maybe the sad story has a happy ending.  He was a very healthy, large elk and if he was just getting through some issue like an illness, he will probably survive.  We were both hoping so.

If you've read my blog over the years, you know I haven't had a lot of luck seeing elk when Chad and I go out.  It tends to be more of a nice, hard hike in the woods.  Getting to see 15 big bulls in one day was awesome.
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