Throughout his years of bowhunting elk in Wyoming, Seth Lee of Casper has seen a few fights break out between bulls.
But a brutal brawl that he and a friend witnessed from just a few yards away during a recent hunt was something special.
“I’ve never seen anything like those two bulls fighting,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “They just wanted to kill each other.”
Mating Season Aggression
Bull elk become aggressive during the rut, or mating season. Archery hunters take advantage of that by using tube-like calls to mimic the “bugles” that bull elk make to challenge each other. With luck, a hunter’s bugles will entice a big bull into bowshot range.
On the morning of the September hunt, Lee said the two bulls started challenging each right at sunrise, gradually moving toward each other.
“We heard them bugling, bugling, bugling and then ‘wham!’ They started going at it,” he said. “As soon as we heard the crack together, we started sneaking in closer.”
‘They Could Have Stomped On Us’
It was mid-morning when the hunters found the battling elk. They watched the bulls crash into each other and shove one another around, sometimes coming to within only a few yards of the hunters’ hiding place. At one point in a video Lee took, one of the bulls flips the other and slams his opponent to the ground.
Lee said the contenders were oblivious to the hunters’ presence.
“They could have stomped on us and not even know it,” he said.
A Wyoming Game and Fish Department official agreed that being close to an elk fight is dicey.
“Being near two elk locked in a battle could turn into a dangerous situation at any moment,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Deputy Chief of Wildlife Craig Smith in an email to Cowboy State Daily.
“In situations like these, elk are very focused and have been observed going through fences, trees, ponds or other obstructions that they would ordinarily avoid,” Smith said. “If you are in the wrong place, you could be injured or worse.”
Elk and other male antlered or horned big game animals will frequently battle each other during mating season, he said. Injuries are a common result from those tussles.
“Death is less common, but certainly happens on occasion,” he said.
Lee said his hunting partner had a bull tag for the area and wanted to take a shot at one of the big, fighting bulls. However, his own bow had broken earlier, and it turned out that his arrows wouldn’t work properly with the bow that he’d borrowed as a replacement.
The fight went on for 20-25 minutes, Lee said. It might have gone on even longer, but some smaller bulls started coming in and distracting the two dominant bruisers. Eventually, all the elk disappeared over a ridge.
Bulls Defeated Their Own Purpose
“The fight was essentially a stalemate,” Lee said. “Those bulls were evenly matched.”
And the bulls undermined their own purposes.
“They had a bunch of cows with them to begin with, but as soon as the fight started those cows started running every which way, and we never saw them again,” Lee said. “They were fighting over the ladies, and they ended up scaring all the ladies away.”