|The young bull sat nearly camouflaged by bracken ferns.|
He can be seen towards the middle of the photo,
where lines of ferns and pines meet.
Our group of a dozen hushed individuals gathered that early September morning to caravan around the forests in search of both the sounds and sights of Clam Lake elk. The group's leader, Laine Stowell, works as a wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin DNR and has years of experience replicating elk calls in the field. Laine was a wealth of knowledge. Each question asked by our group was answered with incredible detail that could only come with years of experience and a deep understanding of the elk's place in our community.
Laine helped us to understand the difficult journey to restore our state's elk population since it was decimated in the 1880's. With years of effort, the population of elk in the Clam Lake heard has grown to an estimated 185 elk this year. Biologists felt for the first time that our state could support a limited bull-only hunt and this year will mark the first managed hunt in Wisconsin. Despite remaining a point of contention, over 38,000 hunters applied for tags and an additional $13,000 was raised to support state elk management.
The five state hunters awarded tags were required to join Laine for a training program not much unlike our own Museum trip. Hunters were guided through wooded areas, reached only by one-lane logging roads, where groups of the massive ungulates live. During the last stop of our own jaunt with Laine, the low hum of distant machinery was finally eclipsed by the distinct bugle response of a nearby bull. Our perceptive leader motioned for us to follow him in a sprint down a vehicle path, drawing nearer to the bull elk. Finally, the front of our group cleared a corner and gasped. The elk was within 15 yards of Laine, and he stared straight at the group before turning his white rump to us and trotting off into the thicket.
Those of us who saw him could not wipe the amazement off their faces. While elk are closely related to white-tailed deer, bull elk can weigh five times more than them. An encounter with an elk in any capacity is a true privilege. When I first visited the Museum three years ago, I was fascinated by the elk shoulder mount on display opposite the front desk. I extended my gaze from directly underneath him, taking in the broadness of his antlers and size of his face hovering over my body.
|Visitors to the Museum over the past few years have likely |
awed at this elk mount in the lobby. It will be returned to its owner
Since then my awe of these beings has only increased, and I feel very fortunate to be able to walk under an elk as I come in and out of work each day, or to join other inquisitive folks as we search for the herd roaming nearby forests. I'm happy to have the elk mount on display for a few more weeks at the Museum, and hope that others interested in such creatures find a chance to visit the display while it remains towering over us all.