While photographing elk at sunrise in the Cataloochee Valley of Great Smoky Mountains National Park I turned around to see what appeared to be just a curious young bull sniffing a photographer’s camera. I snapped a few frames of the apparent harmless encounter.
But the elk became more interested in making trouble than simply the scent of a camera. He started physically harassing the photographer, escallating to full on head-butts.
I quickly switched the camera to video and let it roll (much of the time wondering when I should seriously consider intervening).
Most people who see this ask why the photographer seems to just take the abuse. I asked him in an email what was going through his head. This is his response:
“My first thoughts were “wow, he’s getting pretty damn close here.” But I’ve been up close before without incident. I hoped being still and passive would see him pass on. When he lowered his antlers to me, I wanted to keep my vitals protected and my head down. I felt that standing up would provoke him more and leave me more vulnerable to goring. I think that while protecting myself with my head down, having my head down was a signal that I was rutting with him. I was concerned at first, but when he started rearing back and lunging at me later on, I got scared and pissed off. That’s when I wagged my finger at him to cut that shit out. I was relieved to see the Ranger coming.
So I guess at some point if the Ranger hadn’t of pulled up, I would have had to disengage the best I could. I’ve joked with my friends that at least he took me for a buck and not a cow!”
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