And they were singing……
Elk are fatalistic about love. Larger more aggressive bulls gather much of the affection to themselves guarded behind eight-hundred pounds of driving muscle and a picket of 20-inch spikes.
Knowing all of that, the younger bulls still sing and throw themselves into battles that they can’t win.
Hoping that one of the herd bulls will be gored so badly that they must stagger off and that the rival who has done the damage will be too exhausted to defend his stolen harem.
It is a bloody, brutal world and for a very short time, unbelievably musical.
Friday night the concert didn’t start till late.
It was warm and the cold front that promised winds, rains, and falling temperatures didn’t come in until just before sunset.
For two hours, I cut through the timber and searched for fresh sign, knowing that the elk would all be gathered by this time in the season.
They could be miles away and out of range of my senses, but I am blessed with unusually large and nimble ears.
The skies began to darken, but there was still 45 minutes of legal light left. If we hurried, we might yet catch a chorus that would at least direct us for the next morning.
Just before the leading edge of the storm hit with lightening and gusts that threatened to bring down the tops of the standing dead bug trees, I heard a call.
Every step in the timber reminded me that I was a mere fly on the forest floor, giant dead pines were the swatters, and the wind was the hand of God threatening to smack me away if he preferred the herd that night over me.
The elk were in my drainage, but perhaps a half mile above. A quick change of location brought me within sight of the trailing satellite bulls just before they dropped into a draw to avoid the wind and lightning.
Only fools rush in, but the swishing branches and rain diverted the eyes and lightning deafened the ears of the wary and soon I was standing in the middle of an agitated mob of antlered and milling testosterone of the elken variety.
Twice the hunter came to full draw, with bulls within forty yards, but the clouds made him doubt his vision even though lightning strikes revealed antlers in every direction.
The falling rain proved to be the deciding factor. While the wind died down and the front quickly passed.
His better judgement deferred his shot to a more judicious moment.
Rain washes away blood trails and a bull can be very difficult to bring down quickly.
Dawn brought more wind, rain, and fog. It was the perfect morning for elk hunting.
The herd was again discovered but a mile away and to the north after traveling all evening.
More than a dozen bulls were drifting and trailing the main herd hoping for a chance to cut away a few cows for themselves. The females were sick of it all but didn’t want to miss the show.
The bulls only fight over them for a few days each season and the battles can be epic.
For two hours we dogged their trail always within striking distance, first appraising one then seeing another that proved even more
Only once were we busted by a wary cow that barked and sent the bunch climbing away over the ridge.
An hour later we were no closer to the wiser lead bulls and a six point with less experience made himself available and took the arrow in mid-song.
It had been a wonderful season with more mature bulls within view than ever in my memory.
I called less this year.
So many hunters have purchased calls and made themselves known that bugles are more often used to keep hunters at a distance and to help the herd judge their pursuers location.
In a quieter wood, you see so much more and the pack out with the six was a beautiful way to wrap up a gorgeous season.
The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.