A Vision in Velvet

Five bull buddies enjoy an early summer day on the coast

Who would’a ever thunk a quick run for morning coffee on the Oregon Coast could possibly get sidetracked by five bull elk crossing a river?

After a whiplash-inducing double-take to be sure my eyes weren’t lying, I pulled the car hard around (cutting across traffic and spilling my coffee in the process) and skidded to a halt in the gravel. Even with my camera lying close to hand on the back seat, already mounted on its tripod and ready to go, I still caught just a few seconds of the last swimmer. Drats.

It was early summer on the North Coast and the young bulls, sprouting still-growing, velvet-covered antlers, were founding members of a local “bachelor herd” that would grow to number a dozen magnificent animals by fall. For today, however, thoughts of rising through the ranks to become ruler of a large harem of adoring cows appeared far from their adventuresome minds. When you’re an elk, life is a banquet, and pausing frequently in a fresh morning drizzle to sample the lush green cuisine surrounding them, free to roam where they pleased, these young fellows were simply enjoying a day off to make Ferris Bueller proud.

More than capturing a beautiful moment on Nature’s Coast, this video clip offers additional insight into the lives of bull elk living in the midst of humankind. Near the end of the clip, you may note what appears to be a healed-over scar behind the left shoulder of the largest of the bulls. The position, size and shape of the scar suggest an archery wound, punctuating the point that an elk’s life is not always a walk through a peaceful park.

Because these elk are not threatened by humans for most of the year, and cannot read regs or a calendar to know when hunting season begins, let alone a map to know where the protection of public property ends, the biggest and most beautiful among them become the favored targets of a breed of archery “hunter” who could only hope to find easier prey in a children’s petting zoo. Even when facing such large, nearly tame targets standing stock-still at point-blank range, some of these “hunters” still cannot shoot straight enough to do their “sport” proud, and often create “porcupine elk” with their bad shooting (I have graphic video evidence of this on file too gruesome to show here). It can take agonizing hours or days for elk to succumb to their wounds, or months — as it appears the bull in this video has done — to recover … only to face errant arrows again next season. This practice, IMHO as someone who knee-high-to-a-grasshopper was raised a hunter, is an unsporting embarrassment that should never be allowed.

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