Horny Elk and Their Mountains


My traveling partner and I awoke early one morning to loud bellows that resembled a mix of honking and grunting. Opening our cabin's door at the Fairmont Resort, just a crack, we peered at an enormous bull elk glaring back from less than 5 feet at the porch step, posturing and bugling as a female deer elk pranced across the yard. The male elk was as startled as we were but then ignored us, unimpressed by our interference. He had made his 13 points (antler-speak) – “leave me to my rut.” The estrus cow drifted into the woods, and our guest stud soon followed. Antlers could be heard clashing elsewhere; more bugling and more stud elk made appearances.

A staff member from the lodge eventually materialized with a pellet gun. These large mammals were becoming a nuisance and possible danger to the human population in the camp.

I was fully awake now. A frosty morning unfolded as I devoured a decent breakfast at the main lodge. This first day within Jasper National Park was spent hiking along the trails shared with elk and other animal inhabitants of the vast forests of central Alberta. Plenty of strategically placed signs here warn about bears (travel in pairs or groups), both black and grizzly. Snow was in the air too, already. All around are hints of winter, but sunshine melted most traces of ice by noon. The low light of the angular late September sun targeted the shimmering aspens, triggered bursts of rainbow-like reflections off the diverse flora and trees, dispersed the fog and warmed up the damp paths.

The reference books put the elk, or wapiti (Cervus canadensis), within the deer family, Cervidae. The larger moose (Alces alces) also is referred to by the name"elk" in British English and applies to deer populations in Eurasia. The only other member of the deer family to rival the elk in size is the south Asian sambar (Rusa unicolor). The largest of four surviving elk subspecies, living in the Pacific Northwest rain forests, is known as the Roosevelt (or Olympic) elk.