Call Of The Wild: Follow The Bugle To See Rim Country Elk



Meander through the high country during the fall, usually September and October, and you'll probably catch a glimpse of a herd of elk.

Really fortunate observers will also get a gander at a magnificent 700-pound bull strutting through the trees.

Chances are, he'll be bugling hoping to attract female elk, known as cows.

Bugling sounds are difficult to describe, but seasoned outdoorsmen and women can predict the size of a bull by his bugle.

That's because, the bigger, more mature bulls usually emit the louder and more impressive sounding bugles.

The bugles of smaller bulls are feeble in comparison.

In addition to bugling, elk also communicate with a variety of vocalizations including squeals and barks.

After honing in on a bugling elk, it's not unusual to spot a bull charging in to to challenge another bull for autumn mating rights.

Larger bulls can usually intimidate smaller bulls and send them fleeing. However, when two bulls close to the same size meet, they go antler to antler until one pushes the other away.

If one of the combatants should fall, it can be fatal, as bulls have been known to gore opponents to death.


Members of the Mesa del Caballo community are often visited by Rim Country elk looking for an easy meal.

While bulls are searching for mates and challenging one another, the younger elk, known as calves, can often be seen frolicking, much like children do in the schoolyard.

During the rut, the calves live in smaller groups, or "harems" with mother cows and one or two mature bulls.

Games of chase, in which the calves jump, dart and twist in mid-air, are common among the younger animals.

The calves can provide plenty of enjoyment for those fortunate enough to catch them in their playful moods.

Not all bulls, however, have harems -- the yearling bulls usually form bachelor groups or live alone.

The best way to see or photograph elk in magnificent autumn colors is to get out, walk around and check for animal signs.

The elk love meadows in the late afternoon and early evening. During the day they usually are back in the trees.

Aspen groves are a good place to scour for elk as the animals are vegetarians and love to eat the trees' leaves and nearby grasses. The area destroyed by the Dude Fire, now tall in grasses, is a prime dining spot for elk.


Elk visiting Rim Country communities show little fear of humans, but residents are cautioned to always take care around the magnificent animals.

A sure sign a bull is nearby is a "wallow" where the animals roll in the mud to coat themselves so they look bigger, darker and more impressive to cows.

If mud can't be found, the bulls dig a hole with their hooves and urinate in it.

The smell of "elk cologne" or urine is an unmistakably malodorous, but seasoned elk hunters, like Gary Mendenhall and Joe Rosania of Show Low, say cows love it.

Once a herd or harem of elk are spotted, they often won't spook even it they see you. However, if they catch a smell of a human they'll be off and running.

When photographing elk, the conditions are usually low in light, so use higher speed films or higher ISO digital settings. ISO settings of 800 and 1600 might be best as the evening wears on.

Elk facts

The elks that live in the United States today are direct descendants of red deer that migrated to America from Asia long before humans did.

Anthropologists say the elk arrived on the "Old North Trail" used by animals and ancient people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to North America.

Elk probably thrived until Europeans began settling the continent. The settlers hunted elk for meat, but also killed animals that competed with their livestock. As early as 1785, people began noticing the decline of elk.

By the 1800s elk were almost wiped out as market demands encouraged the slaughter of the animals for their hides and ivory canine teeth.

In the 1900s, enlightened conservationists helped ensure the survival of elk by calling for closely regulated hunting seasons, wildlife refuges, national parks and national forests.

Among those to step up and volunteer to help insure the future of elk was the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which has a chapter in Payson.

The Payson Mogollon Sporting Association has also helped, funding a number of habitat enhancement projects.

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