Photographing California Bull Tule Elk

July 05, 2021  •  Leave a Comment


20190830-_C1A1143Tule Elk bull A large male California Tule elk bull standing in the grass and reeds of Grizzly Island Wildlife Area.
I've been to California’s Grizzly Island Wildlife Area a few times before and I have seen the California tule elk that roam there. However, they have always been extremely difficult to find and far off in the distance. My plan was to drive up and down the main road, get on the roof of the truck to look over the thick marsh land, and glass. Just like before, most of the morning was spent seeing the tule elk way off in the distance. 

But then... 

While driving down the road to our next spot, we caught a glimpse of antlers peeking out of the reeds. We slowed to a stop, got out quietly, and positioned ourselves for a better view. About 200 yards off the road, there were two large bull Tule elk laying down right next to one another. 

In order to get a decent image of them, I was going to need to get a whole lot closer. I figured out the direction of the wind, light, and cover, and began to position myself to get the shot. Using large clusters of cattail reeds as cover, I was able to creep closer and closer. 

Now, I'm 90% sure the Elk didn't see me for a while, but they definitely caught wind of me at some point and stood up. 

Cover blown! 

(Note: As a youth, I was charged by a black tail buck during the rut season and if it weren't for a yellow Labrador dog charging back, I might have been gored. So, when these large bull elk stood up and I was almost too close to frame them with a 500mm lens...Let’s just say it was pretty intimidating).

I used that opportunity to begin slightly revealing myself from my cover to get a clear line of sight. 

At this point, they were looking right at me! The massive tule Elk bulls stood there for a moment, assessing me, which allowed me to get some amazing images of them. And just like that, they moved off at a quick walk. 

I stayed put until they got a healthy distance away, as to not spook them any more than they were, and to digest that amazing encounter.

Here is one of my favorites from the series!


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