There are two times of the year I look forward to; seeing Collared Lizards out on the rocks again in the spring, and elk rut in the fall. That first trip down in late August, when the bulls start bugling gets me excited. I can’t wait to hike into one of my favorite places to shoot the rut.
The Wichita Mountains was originally home to the Meriam Elk, but that species was hunted heavily and became extinct in 1881. The first Rocky Mountain Elk were introduced into the Wichitas in 1911 from the Teton National Forest. More came from Jackson Hole Wyoming in 1912. These were the seed animals to the large herd you find here today.
On deer you count the number of points on both sides together calling the buck a 8 point, 10 point, etc, etc. Points on elk are counted differently. The number on each side are tallied separately. So a bull might be a 5 x 5, 6 x 6 and so on.
Bison and longhorns have horns, and horns last throughout the animal’s life. Male deer and elk have antlers, which are shed each year and regrow. Elk drop their antlers in early spring and they grow through August. Elk antlers are the fastest growing animal tissue on the planet, some growing as much as an inch a day.
By mid August the velvet protecting the growing tissue starts to dry out and the bulls rub it off and polish the bone underneath it.
By the end of August a dominant bull will start gathering up cows into what is called a harem. He will spend the next two months constantly watching over them to mate with any cow that goes into estrous and to keep other bulls from stealing them away. He will rarely sleep or eat until the rut is over around the end of October.
By the end of October the rut is over, and the bulls are exhausted. They leave the cows to rest and try to regain the weight they lost. I find bulls are a lot easier to photograph than cows and even more so after the rut. I think they’re just worn out and don’t want to run away. 🙂 Here are a few more of my favorite elk shots.