Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Elk in the Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the most thrilling times I had in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park this year was spent tracking North American Elk inside the park.

It as a warm afternoon in May and the Cataloochee section of the park was almost empty. A few campers were hanging around the campsite and some people on bikes were riding around the almost deserted section of park. This was a perfect time to observe North American Elk in the great Smoky Mountain National Park.

52 Elk over the past few years have been released back into the wilds of the national park in an experiment to reintroduce a species that has vanished from the park for more than a hundred years.

I first did my reconnaissance with maps and knowing the pattern of behavior Elk followed I planed where I was going to be able to observe them in the dense woods as well as when and where they should hopefully appear in the fields.

I was excited when unloading my vehicle of the camera equipment and changing into my hiking attire. This was going to be the first Elk I was to see east of the Mississippi. Sure I have seen plenty of elk in Wyoming, Montana and Canada but to see Elk back in the Smokies had me all excited.

Elk can be very dangerous creatures to come across in the wild and they have been known to attack humans without provocation. I knew I had to keep my distance as well as be quiet so as not to spook them. As with any animal in the national park system on must disturb or annoy the animals that inhabit the park or face stuff fines.

My plan was to go up the side of a small mountain where I would have a view of downhill of a wide are including a large creek. As the day would progress I would work my way down to the edge of a large field where the elk have been known to gather at dusk.

The footing on the trail was poor as rain from the previous day tuned the lower section of the trail to a sloppy mud pie. I was sure glad I had high watertight boots on.

I knew I was on the right track for 2 reasons, plenty of large hoof prints in the mud and finally some elk droppings.

While bending down to photograph the droppings there was a large movement 30 yard to my right. I froze. Slowly I turned my head to see 2 female deer (Doe) waking parallel to the trail and me. A crow called out and they both took up going up hill ahead of me. I shot a picture of the droppings and continued uphill on the trail.

In about 45 minutes I found what I felt would be a good spot and set up my tripod and sat down. Now it was time to wait and soak in the woods.

Its funny as one becomes more and more still in such a wonderful place how alive you feel and you can hear the sounds and songs of nature all around you. Just watching a tree you start to see squirrels, birds and insects you might not have first noticed. Blooms from the trees fluttered softly to the ground almost giving the illusion of snow on a warm spring afternoon.

I spotted the 2 elk cow first and then the bull. Walking and feeding on braches they moved slowly farther down hill and away from me in between tress and bushes refusing to let me take a nice clear picture of them.

Looking at my watch and seeing that it was already after 7 pm, I decided to pack up my gear and head down to the large field where I thought they would be heading.

I wanted to get a shot of them exiting the woods into the field but that would require that I moved quickly and get in fornt of them and beat them to the field. Even though this was the best shot, I felt as though moving too fast would spook or disturb them so I walked slowly and softly instead.

By now the valleys were getting darker and I was thankful for the long sleeves as a few gnats decided I would be nice for a late supper. Insects are generally not a big problem in the park and when I got away from the wet area by the edge of the field I was left alone.

I know took my camo tarp and made a blind and set up my tripod on the edge of the woods and scanned the tree line. No Elk to be found so it was time to wait again.

Did the elk beat me to the fields and already left? Did I make too much noise coming down the trail and scare them? What if they don’t come into the field, when can I come back to find them. As all these thoughts race through my mind deer in the filed looked up and slowly took off to the together side of the filed and I started the hear loud deliberate noise in the woods behind me.

The Elk walked less then 50 feet away from me allowing me to take some really nice shots where you can clearly see how they were shedding their winter coat and that their antlers had the spring velvet on them.

Slowly they keep moving giving me almost and hour to watch the bull elk with his harem.

Male bull Elk in the Smoky Mountains

Your Smokies has some interesting information and pictures I took of the Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Be careful if you wish to see Eklk because if humans and Elks in the national park do not get along, the experiment will fail and these mighty creatures will be removed so it is up to all of us to protect the Elk by eliminating any possible

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