Wild Elk in the Banff National Park

We’re up in Banff for a few days and staying at the Douglas Fir Resort (nice place with an excellent waterslide for the kids) on Tunnel Mountain.  We drove past a few elk (wapiti) cows near the lodge yesterday which served as good foreshadowing for this morning.

I went down to the Vermilion Lakes for a sunrise shoot and when I was out on the lake edge I noticed this bull elk laying down on the hill above me along the wildlife fence that runs along the highway corridor to prevent wildlife collisions.  I carried on with my landscape shooting for almost an hour and when I returned to my car saw the bull had only moved a few meters along the ridge.  I changed to a telephoto lens and climbed up the mountainside a fair distance away from him.  I stayed in sight so he knew where I was and headed up the opposite direction from where his grazing was taking him along the ridge.  I wasn’t sure if the elk would stick around or trot around the rocks.  I was wading through some deep snow so it took a few minutes to get up but he hadn’t wandered away.  I set up my tripod and then photographed the beautiful animal for about half an hour before I headed back down.  He was eating the whole time and was not bothered by me (a true advantage of longer lenses) so his head was down low most of the time.   He did raise his head up a few times, once in response to a train whistle, and I took a couple of those images.  Really a great encounter – too bad a little sunlight couldn’t break through the morning cloudbank to bring some warm illumination to that coat – but no complaints.

Elk are members of the deer family which, in North America, includes moose, whitetails and mule deer.  In sheer size, they aren’t the largest but as you can see with this buck their antlers can be incredible.  This fellow is young and skinny.  I think the winter has been hard on many animals this year with the cold and the deep snow burning a lot of calories that are hard to come by.  A very good reason to look forward to spring.

44 responses

  1. jasmine

    discovered your blog by chance and saw you have really beautiful pictures. May i know what lens and camera did you use to capture these shots? it looks so sharp especially the details on the elk, esp the second and second to last image.

    January 12, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    • Hi Jasmine – thank you for visiting and for your nice comment. The camera I used for these images was the Canon 5D Mark III. The lens was the Canon 500mm f/4 (version 1). All images were made with the camera and lens mounted on a tripod to maximize sharpness.

      Best regards,

      Chris

      January 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

  2. Might be this blog’s greatest post I have read!!!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:36 am

  3. Thanks for your comment. I spent about half an hour moving slowly closer and stopped at about 40 feet away. Elk, as with all wildlife, are unpredictable so you have to watch for signs that they are uncomfortable or stressed. If you push your luck, they can turn from passively watching you to antler lowered rushes very quickly. I only approached closer than a a couple of hundred feet once he knew where I was and he was moving about easily. When they stand facing you and stare at you, very generally speaking you should back up and leave them alone. For a set like this there have been many encounters where the animal was agitated or shy and I photographed from a good distance, leaving them to themselves.

    April 18, 2011 at 1:29 am

  4. WOW! Spectacular images — thanks so much for sharing.

    April 12, 2011 at 1:57 am

  5. Great wildlife pictures, immensely enjoyed them. Will be back. Thanks for sharing with us africasiaeuro photography

    April 1, 2011 at 8:42 am

    • Hello Heinz,

      Thank you for taking some time to wander around the blog and for your comments.

      Cheers,

      Chris

      April 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm

  6. These are breathtaking!

    March 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm

  7. Awesome pics! Jeeez, I miss Banff 😦 I lived there for 3 months! And yes… There are a lot of elk around the area 🙂 Thanks for bringing me back the good memories!

    March 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm

  8. Martin Rogers

    Excellent photos. I especially like the last one. Its almost as if he is trying to make a threatening gesture, but just ends up with a quizzical expression on his face.

    March 30, 2011 at 8:43 am

    • Hi Martin,

      He was an interesting fellow – this about as close as he came to threatening me so it was a pretty calm experience.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Cheers,

      Chris

      April 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

  9. Julio Eiffelt R R

    some species in several country, this animal is endangered because hunting without under law that protect animal such as elk.
    Nice post 🙂

    March 29, 2011 at 11:16 pm

  10. Very nice pics of a beautiful animal in its natural habitat. Very cool!
    Congrats an being FP!

    March 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm

  11. mcsnitches

    Look at that badass Elk.

    March 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm

  12. Ancestral Paths and My Photo Journal

    Awesome pictures! I used to live in northern Arizona and could see them in the woods about 20 feet from my kitchen window. They are something to watch! Thanks for posting the photos!

    March 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm

  13. Amazing photography, very beautiful.

    March 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

  14. adrianduque89

    Awesome post! Such a magnificent animal! Great photos!

    March 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm

  15. Great Shots! Nice to see that there were so many ELK!

    March 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm

  16. Those are amazing pictures. Isn’t it beautiful how animals know who to fear and who not to. That must have been quite an experience. thanks for posting. Hugs bea

    March 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

  17. All County Insurance - Brea, California

    Amazing photos of this beautiful creature! Thanks for the post and congrats on the FP!

    March 29, 2011 at 12:11 pm

  18. Wow, you sure looked like you got up close & personal! Nice photos!

    March 29, 2011 at 11:40 am

    • Hi Evie,

      Thanks for your comment. I spent about half an hour moving slowly closer and stopped at about 40 feet away. Elk, as with all wildlife, are unpredictable so you have to watch for signs that they are uncomfortable or stressed. If you push your luck, they can turn from passively watching you to antler lowered rushes very quickly. I only approached closer than a a couple of hundred feet once he knew where I was and he was moving about easily. When they stand facing you and stare at you, very generally speaking you should back up and leave them alone. For a set like this there have been many encounters where the animal was agitated or shy and I photographed from a good distance, leaving them to themselves.

      Cheers,

      Chris

      March 29, 2011 at 3:42 pm

  19. infinite monkey theorem

    Beautiful animals, great photos!

    March 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

  20. willbt

    WONDERFUL photos in Banff!

    Brings back many memories: in the day,it was a
    rite of pasage for young people from Eastern Canada – especially from southwestern Ontario – to take the now-defunct CN Transcontinental train to Banff, where we would work in the hotels for a season or two, and revel in the exotic locale, while learning about growing up into adults. Sex & drugs were recreational activities as much as skiing & hiking and wildlife-watching.[TX to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, the Transcontinental train is no more. He axed it – the bastard!{Thank-you, Reaganomics!}]

    It was always an EXOTIC thrill to see the elk. They often would come right into town, along the Bow River banks. Out would come our Kodachrome Instamatics! (another vanished artifact!)Snap, snap, snap! “Didjou SEE that?”

    I’m very glad you, too, experienced the magic of this most special park!

    March 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

  21. Looks like they are coming out of a hard winter of deep snows. Could definately put some green grass pounds on!!
    Part of what I teach (rissacloud.wordpress.com) is that hardship as seen in these photos w/o immediate health danger will genetically set up next generations for hardiness.
    Where as, when we wear the fat of the land upon us to the point of toxifying ourselves into diseases from high salt,fat,and sugar contents(high blood pressure,obesity,diabetes)all year long & year after year…
    we are predisposing our own genetic stock, our children!, to great genetic weaknesses for the future… meaning our next generation will be derived of genomes lacking in strengthening constitution.

    ‘Food for Thought’

    March 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

  22. WOW- amazing shots! You are very lucky to have gotten so close…

    March 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

  23. Beautiful thank you for sharing!

    March 29, 2011 at 9:01 am

  24. Truly beautiful shots. Thank goodness WordPress put your post up on the front page!

    March 29, 2011 at 8:43 am

  25. Espana

    WoWWWW!!!!!
    Awesome and stunning photos of an Elk. Nice captures of this one. My grandfather used to tell me before that Elk is the fastest among the dear family. And it’s meat is very low in fat and cholesterol and the animals are not treated with growth hormones or chemicals.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:34 am

  26. AryanMolaeimehr

    nice pictures , thanks http://aryanmolaei.wordpress.com/

    March 29, 2011 at 8:23 am

  27. LOVE this. Going to have to show my husband tonight, too. One of our best memories included camping in South Dakota’s Black Hills, and waking up to a herd of 50 elk (mating season, bulls were lining up the cows).

    March 29, 2011 at 8:08 am

  28. The first one looks like he is getting ready to charge. Beautiful animal.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:02 am

  29. WOW! Spectacular images — thanks so much for sharing.

    🙂

    March 29, 2011 at 7:54 am

    • Thanks for visiting Mikalee – I’m glad you enjoyed the photographs.

      March 29, 2011 at 8:10 am

  30. Those things are huge!! Nice pics!

    March 29, 2011 at 7:39 am

  31. Pingback: Storm through the Bow Valley « Christopher Martin Photography

  32. Pingback: The Bull Elk – The Next Day « Christopher Martin Photography

  33. wonderful pictures!

    March 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm

  34. SWK

    Such a beautiful animal.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:50 am

  35. I love these, Chris! I can only dream about getting this close to photograph wild animals. The antlers are incredibly large. Amazing to see the detail!

    March 16, 2011 at 10:25 am

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