A Wary Bull Elk In Montana’s Centennial Valley

Note: As of a little while ago my blog has now been moved to the new server and that has caused some issues with this post. I originally posted it early this morning but when the blog was moved that post was lost in the transition so I’ve now posted it again. That’s why subscribers got a second email with the link to the post. All comments made on the old post this morning were lost – sorry about that!

Hopefully there will be no more problems but if you notice something “haywire” on your end please let me know. Apologies for the inconvenience and confusion!


This bull was far from a relatively “tame” National Park elk. He was wild, extremely wary, nervous and high-strung.

There’s a robust elk herd in Montana’s Centennial Mountains but the hunting pressure on them is intense so in my experience it’s unusual to find them out in the open and exposed Centennial Valley to the north. But during the night some of them occasionally come out to feed in the valley and if you’re the first to drive the “South Road” at sunrise you have a small chance of catching them out in the open.

elk 2577 ron dudley
1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender

That’s exactly what happened with this bull in velvet two weeks ago during my camping trip to the area. The road runs between the mountains and the valley where he was feeding so he and another bull with him felt cut off and threatened by my pickup because I blocked their quick access to the safety of the wooded and largely roadless mountains. They spotted my pickup before we saw them and they took off running to the west in order to get far enough away from us before they headed back to the mountains.

At one point they both stopped and turned toward me to see what I was doing and that’s when I got this photo and a handful of others. Seconds later they turned their pale butts to me and were gone.

Some regular blog followers may have noticed that I spend very little time in National Parks photographing mammals. Yellowstone for example is only a hop, skip and a short jump from the Centennial Valley but I’ve only been there twice in recent decades and each time I beat a quick retreat. Crowds, traffic, congestion and wildlife that is often so acclimated to humans that they hardly bat an eye in our presence holds little appeal for me – especially when my experience in the “wild” is ruined by the cacophony of dozens of other cameras sounding like Gatling guns in my ears every time a critter scratches, blinks or farts.

Photographers in places like Yellowstone, Grand Tetons or Hardware Ranch may routinely get better photos of elk than this one. But I watched the truly wild and naturally evasive behavior of this bull and I didn’t have to share the experience with hordes of others and for me that flavors the image in a way that I’d be less likely to duplicate in a National Park.

If that sounds selfish and/or elitist of me, so be it. I really don’t mean it that way but I yam what I yam…


23 comments to A Wary Bull Elk In Montana’s Centennial Valley

  • Peggy Wyman

    I know what you mean about the crowds in Yellowstone and Grand Teton and I am glad many people get to enjoy the splendor of scenery and wildlife they provide. However, there is a way to enjoy these beautiful places without being completely overwhelmed. Go in the off season. My husband and I went last year in September or October and the crowds were very much thinned out!

  • Laura Culley

    Sounds normal to me!

  • April Olson

    Beautiful photo. That is a big bull.

  • Great image Ron. Yellowstone used to be my favorite place to visit, but as you point out, it has just become too crowded to enjoy!

  • Your new server is a winner from here. This post loaded MUCH quicker.
    If you classify selfishness/eliteness as not enjoying crowds, crowd behavior and partially tamed wildlife you are NOT alone.
    And selfies are an abomination.

  • Judy Gusick

    Hope this works better! 🙂

  • Susan Stone

    As one who doesn’t camp in any way, shape or form, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are my best access to mammals such as Elk. The one advantage crowds have had for me, is that if there is a traffic jam, one can bet that there is something to see. That’s the up side. The down side is seeing how stupid people are around wild animals, which really are still wild even when acclimated to humans. I would prefer to be without the crowds, and especially without the stupidity. This Elk is just gorgeous. Thanks for sharing him with us. And I’m glad you’ve gotten your blog moved successfully.

  • Your photo gave me my first look at what new “velvet” looks like ( usually it’s pictured in tattered strips, hanging of the antlers )–really looks like something nice to touch—maybe that’s why
    he’s looking so fierce—ha, ha—-there’s something about that pugnacious expression–where have I been seeing that so much lately ?

    • “there’s something about that pugnacious expression–where have I been seeing that so much lately?”

      I’ll have to think about that one, Kris. Oh, I know…!

  • Marty K

    Whoops! That last one was supposed to be a reply to Betty. User error! 😉

    What a magnificent creature, Ron! Such a great shot of him too. You can see the “whale eye” — he’s not happy to see you.

    I appreciate that you go out into the wilderness to capture nature as it really is. 🙂

  • Marty K

    “The worst thing that has happened to the photography community is selfies.” — I couldn’t agree more!

  • Patty Chadwick

    You’re back!!! Great image… So glad tonsee it!

  • Betty Sturdevant

    It does not sound selfish or elitist. It sounds like someone very interested in what they do and teaching everyone interested what to value in photography. The worst thing that has happened to the photography community is selfies. The only impetus to this exercise is bragging. Your work is excellent and I enjoy all of it and your commentaries. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks, Betty. I feel the same as you do about selfies.

      • Patty Chadwick

        Same here about self adoration and selfies…can seldom stand them!!! …self, selfish, selfies…misplaced, unattractive, off-putting vanity–usually boring subjects (in other words, “I’m not as in love with you as you seem to be with yourself)….

        • April Olson

          I keep waiting for some jumbass Asian to get stoppled to death by a Bison while trying to get that perfect selfie (with a selfie stick) with a Bison in the to near background. I know this will sound racist but if you have been to Antelope Island when the tour buses arrive, you will know what I am talking about.