The Sound of Bugles

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.*

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

*This is actually about an actual, honest-to-goodness bugle, but it sure sounds like it could be referring to the call of an elk.


It was overcast and rather chilly, not much above 40°, as I passed through the entrance gate to Peck Ranch Conservation Area this morning. The Missouri Department of Conservation had released about a hundred elk at Peck back in 2011 and though I’d seen them several times, I somehow hadn’t managed to hit the area during the rut and I really wanted to hear the bulls bugling. I had timed things just about right—it was just light enough that I could turn off the headlights and still see to drive.

I crossed Mill Creek, came to the first field/food plot and immediately got into elk, a good-sized bull and a single cow.

It was still dark enough that even with the camera wide open (f/5.6) and at 1000 ISO, I had to use an exposure of 1.5 seconds. I was fortunate to get a photo this good despite resting the camera fairly solidly on a rolled up hoodie placed over the edge of the window. I was able to keep the camera almost steady, but I couldn’t get the elk to hold still!

He did coöperate in another way though. I’d been watching for ten minutes when he lifted his head and bugled. A second bull responded from farther down the creek, so I moved, knowing that I’d be moving out of the shadow of the hill and hopefully into better light.

I crossed the creek bed again and saw elk, forty or more, strung out across the food plots on both sides of the road. There was another bull, larger that the first, on the south side of the road. He posed majestically; this wasn’t his first rodeo. The light was better here—I shot this photo at 1/13 second, f/5 and 1000 ISO.

This was a good-sized bull, but he also only had a single cow with him. And that meant there was likely another larger and/or ornerier bull around somewhere.

With that in mind, I drove slowly forward, edging closer to the large group of cows and calves, hoping to find the dominant herd bull. I found this guy:

Yeah, I’m going with ornerier here. I don’t know what those poor weeds did to him, but he had put a whuppin’ on ‘em. They probably done looked at his woman wrong. Or called him a wuss. Weeds are like that.

I’m pretty sure he was a little crazy and not just because he was wearing the beginnings of a ghillie suit on his head. He paced, back and forth, pawing the ground and occasionally bugling. You could feel the aggression coming from him. Hell, I was starting to get nervous, half afraid he’d decide my truck needed to be taught a lesson.

He eventually shook the thicket off his head, but that didn’t improve his mood. If anything, it pissed him off even more.

He decided he’d had enough and quickly shepherded his women away from the road.

They moved back up the hollow, into another food plot behind the screen of trees. And unlike those idiots who get out of their vehicles and try to get photos with elk bison, moose, etc., I wasn’t even tempted to follow and kept my rear-end in the truck.

Besides, there were also several younger, smaller bulls hanging around the periphery that I could photograph. They very carefully kept their distance from the big guy’s harem, only coming fully into the food plot once they had moved on.

I tried several times to record one of the bulls bugling, but you can’t anticipate when one will bugle so I was left just holding my phone out the window with the recorder running, hoping for the best. I managed to capture only one very faint bugle, not worth the trouble of processing and posting it. So, if anyone isn’t familiar with the eerie sound of a bull bugling, I found this on

By this time, there was a half-dozen pick-up trucks and an old school bus sharing the road with me. Apparently, the elk have become quite the attraction. But there were now officially too many people about, the elk had mostly moved into the timber for the day and I headed back to the house for breakfast.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I also saw this small, funny looking elk. I’m not sure what to make of it. Any ideas?  Smile


Update May 27, 2017: I’ve disabled comments on this page because it receives an ungodly number of spam comments that manage to get through my filter and I’m tired of having to delete them.

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