Photo Gallery: When Elk Attack

This particular elk was attending a harem of cows hanging out in a campground in Jasper National Park. He spent several nights bugling and keeping campers awake. It wasn't uncommon for the bull to walk within a few yards of RV's and pitched tents in the campground.Field & Stream Online Editors
An RV driver takes a quick snapshot of a bull elk blocking his way on the road.Field & Stream Online Editors
Not all bull elk know of the 25-meter minimum distance regulation, or care to respect it. This particular bull false-charged the photographer behind the tree from over 50 yards away. After a few seconds of posturing the bull walked back to his harem.Field & Stream Online Editors
The author/photographer on the other side of a tree from a charging bull elk. This image looks more dramatic than it really is. Just seconds before this shot of me was taken by a friend also photographing this bull a tourist walked to within 15 feet of the animal to get a better shot with her snapshot camera, even though we'd warned her about getting any closer to him. When the bull charged the woman came running in my direction with the bull on her tail. When she came close I got the bulls attention and jumped behind a nearby tree. The bull spent about a minute showing his displeasure by raking the nearby ground with his antlers. Generally, charging bull elk don't chase people around a tree trying to get at them. They just want you to know who's boss and scare you away from them and their cows.Field & Stream Online Editors
I took this shot of a particularly ornery bull that came from nearly a hundred yards away and put me behind a tree for about a minute. I used a wide-angle lens and for a split second held my hand out to the side of the tree and took this image. One would mistakenly think that the person behind this hand is in for a serious encounter.Field & Stream Online Editors
Tourist posing for his girlfriend taking a shot of him with a bull elk in the background on the roadside in Jasper National Park.Field & Stream Online Editors
Tourist decides to get closer for a 'better shot' of him with the bull elk in the background. Bull elk takes notice and takes actionField & Stream Online Editors
Bull elk charges ...Field & Stream Online Editors
... and pulls up less than a foot short of wearing the tourist as an antler ornament.Field & Stream Online Editors
Moments after this bull false charged the tourist he turned and charged a nearby car. It's not uncommon for rutting bulls to slam into and damage nearby cars. They've even been known to rip off the front grill of a vehicle at times.Field & Stream Online Editors
Photographing a bull elk coming out of a river crossing ... from a relatively safe distance of 40 yards.Field & Stream Online Editors
A rutting bull elk scraping his antlers against a small sapling during the autum rut.Field & Stream Online Editors

Bull elk during the fall rut are one of my favorite subjects. There are few better things than the sight of a one bugling on the far side of an aspen grove on an early autumn morning.

But such photography is not all fun and games. Most photography of bull elk in rut occurs during the month of September in either Yellowstone National Park or Canada's Banff and Jasper National Parks. Both locations support good elk populations that are protected from hunting and see great numbers of people. As a result, such elk become largely unafraid of humans. This allows the public to view and photograph them in closer proximity than would normally occur outside of park-protected environments.

National Park regulations generally call for people to keep a minimum of 25 meters between themselves and most wildlife, including elk. This regulation exists to insure that elk remain relatively undisturbed, and that people remain relatively safe. Unfortunately, there's always a number of people who are either unaware of or choose to ignore this minimum-distance regulation. Most problems that occur between the public and elk usually come about when tourists try to get too close, to get a better snapshot with their snapshot cameras. More often than not a dominant bull elk attending to his harem of cows will false charge anyone who gets too close and send them scurrying for the protection of the nearest tree, car or structure. However, on rare occasion bulls don't false charge and people are injured.

Click through the slides view photos of human-elk encounters, including a series in which a bull elk charges an unwary tourist.