Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2017 - 36
The Elk of
This bull elk, shot on an early September
morning, is bugling during the rut.
Elk have been living in sections of the Great Smokies since 2001, when they
were re-introduced, following an absence since the last of the original herds
were killed off in the mid-1800s. Here's a guide to viewing and photographing.
Story and photos by Bob Grytten
It's 7:30 a.m., and an eerie bugling
sound echoes through the valley.
Mist hovers overs the open fields
and hardwoods rise sharply. First
light is just edging over the mountain peaks. My heart is racing.
More bugling, off in the distance.
We're here to catch a glimpse of
these wild creatures, racks four to
five feet across towering over their
massive chestnut bodies.
These are the elk of Cataloochee
Two hundred years ago these
wild creatures roamed unabated
in these areas of the Great Smoky
Mountain National Park near
Waynesville, North Carolina. Native Americans hunted them, settlers came and hunted them, finally
to extinction. And about 15 years
ago, they were reintroduced to the
Cataloochee Valley, once a prosperous proud settlement of the 1860s.
Today a thriving herd of elk lives
amid the restored homes, the old
church, school and outbuildings.
And they are a photographers' de-
light-especially in the fall, the time
of the rut. The velvet on the antlers
is gone, replaced by smooth implements of battle-for dominance
of harems of female elk. A time of
breeding. A time of growing the
herd, and survival... Facing off with
the older dominant bulls, young
bulls challenge the right to the herd
-but, in skirmishes the dominant
bulls do not go quietly. Throughout the valley their bugle echoes the
sound of battle, and warning off-
"this is my territory and my girls-