Photographer Gets in a Tussle with an Elk, Fortunately Escapes Unharmed

We’ve seen photographs of wildlife that run the gamut from cute to ‘Far Side,‘ but it’s important never to forget that wild animals are, after all, wild… and therefore dangerous. One photographer was reminded when he found himself in a tense standoff with a young bull elk on the side of the road.

The altercation happened in the Cataloochee Valley of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, when a bull elk decided to start the day by starting some trouble with a nearby photographer.

According to the video description, the photographer in question had been keeping a respectful distance when the curious elk took notice and walked up to sniff his camera gear. So far so good. The problem started when the elk became more aggressive, lowering his antlers and full-on headbutting the poor photog.



The photographer who shot the video later emailed the photographer in the video to ask why he decided to sit there for minutes on end while the elk continued to headbutt him. Here’s his response:

My first thoughts were “wow, he’s getting pretty damn close here.” But I’ve been up close before without incident. I hoped being still and passive would see him pass on. When he lowered his antlers to me, I wanted to keep my vitals protected and my head down. I felt that standing up would provoke him more and leave me more vulnerable to goring.

I think that while protecting myself with my head down, having my head down was a signal that I was rutting with him. I was concerned at first, but when he started rearing back and lunging at me later on, I got scared and pissed off. That’s when I wagged my finger at him to cut that s*** out. I was relieved to see the Ranger coming.

So what, if anything, is the lesson here? Probably: be careful and keep your distance. We’re just thankful the Ranger showed up before the elk got any more aggressive, because this could have gotten very ugly very fast.

For his part, the photographer seems to have escaped with his sense of humor intact. At the end of his email, he quipped that, “at least he took me for a buck and not a cow!”

(via DIY Photography via Imaging Resource)

  • Ivor Wilson

    Do you have a link to the item? I’m not doubting its existence, it’s just that I checked their FB page and couldn’t find it. I’m genuinely interested to see what their take on it was.

  • Funny one

    Just wondering, how many cats do you have?

  • Transcend

    Great Smokey Mtns Association Facebook page, posted yesterday…

  • Костя Лях


  • lisa

    I wonder if he loaded himself up with a scent to draw the elk over, that elk if he wanted to would of hit him hard and knocked him out. He didnt do that, nor did he gore him, I wouldnt blame the elk if he did, as that man should of never put himself in that postion, they are wild and should be left alone, period!

  • captric

    The Elk was at first curious — and then he became playful. It is typical behavior exhibited by males of all mammal species….they “play fight”.

  • Stan B.

    You really have no clue what an animal that size can do in a split second- do you?

  • devoy

    Keep in mind that Elk in GSMNP are used to the presence of people. This looks like it’s in the back of the valley, and where this gentleman is, the field boarders the road, which is bordered on the other side by a creek. You really can’t get farther from the Elk. Had the photographer been in the middle of the field, you have a point, but that’s not the case here. That looks to be about the same place where we had a young calf poke his head into our car one year. Not uncommon for them to just walk right up to you.

  • Devoy

    You’re always within 150 feet of the elk in Cataloochee. There’s really no way to avoid it. And you’re definitely within 150ft of the elk if you get out to explore the Caldwell House, or the Barn, or the church, or the grave yards, or Park HQ. We’re the ones who reintroduced the Elk into the most heavily visited National Park in this country. There’s going to be interaction.

  • Transcend

    That’s true, but it’s also a matter of common sense, and willful interaction is another thing. People should just go by Park policy as best they can, and listen to the Park workers and wildlife experts. The 150 ft rule doesn’t work anymore because the elk have learned that people are generally not a threat and will give them food.

  • danno

    “stupid is as stupid does”…I question the mentality of some people as they have lens that will take any picture they may want from there car..

  • Sara

    I think the elk started out being playful and wanted some attention from him. When the photographer did nothing… it might have made the elk try harder. It doesn’t seem the elk was actually trying to do the guy harm

  • Sara

    Large dogs are also animals, and millions of people around the world keep large dogs that could easily hurt or kill someone if they chose to. Generally, treat animals (and people) right, and they will usually treat you right

  • BS Photography

    This is a joke! Seriously, the young elk walks up to a guy who’s sitting on the side of the road (never seems to approach the elk in the least) and is curious as to what he is. The behavior is playful and inquisitive on the park of the elk, and he backs off at the slightest aggression on the photographer’s part, but . The bounce back and then lunge is a classic play behavior in 4 legged juveniles (watch videos of puppies, wild cats, and even baby deer playing and they all do the same behaviors).

    The photographer’s only mistake was unintentionally encouraging the play behavior, but save for an errant antler and a bruise on the head there was little chance of injury. It’s a very young elk who is exploring, learning and had probably never seen a moving stump with something shiny that clicks in his hand.

  • HRTV

    The Elk could you taken his entire head one with one swift blow.

  • M&M

    The beginning of the video as well as an excerpt from the article both state that he WAS keeping his distance. The elk approached him.

  • BS Photography

    And I’m in danger of a car running me over while walking down the sidewalk… Does that mean I should run away and hide when a taxi pulls over to let someone out? Or someone pulls over to ask for directions?

  • WKYA_Radio

    that was a great post

  • Michelle Hodge

    What’s sad is that this beautiful animal was euthanized today…

  • Andrew Kandel

    The elk was shot today by the Park Service.

  • Angelia

    “Unfortunately, the elk was euthanized because park officials say he couldn’t be retrained to fear humans” can you believe that?

  • Ivor Wilson

    That is tragic. Why would they do this?

  • Ivor Wilson

    No, I can’t. That sounds more like some suit high-up the pecking order deciding the Elk *might* become a liability in future, in being a potential danger to a paying, litigious patron.

  • Ivor Wilson

    That is indeed sad. What a waste of a life, and for what? I sincerely hope people aren’t blaming that photographer for this outcome?

  • Branko Collin

    I seem to have read somewhere that every second somebody waits to respond decreases the likelihood that they will respond. There is also something called the Bystander Effect, where seeing other bystanders diminishes the likelihood you will respond.

  • Shiimsa

    No it doesn’t. Modern medicine has made it near impossible for the idiots of our species to die out.

  • Shiimsa

    The fact that he’s now put a human life in danger. And considering the solution is in no way deadly or physically harmful to the animal. If that Ranger hadn’t shown up, that photographer could have been killed. I would rather handle it “unprofessionally” than watch a human being get gored and killed right in front of me.

  • Shiimsa

    The problem is you don’t want to have your back to an animal that large, so I don’t blame the guy turning around. It’s much easier to protect yourself from a charge if you see it coming, as well as the fact that if the deer decided to charge him, he’s more likely to hit vital organs from the back than if the photographer is facing him. At that point the deer would hit the shoulders, or the photographer could move to protect himself better.

  • KJ

    Update from the video poster, the National Park Service’s decision to put the elk down, ” based on a pattern of aggressive behavior that began prior to the
    incident documented in this video. The behavior was the result of
    visitors feeding the elk and conditioning them to seek food from humans.
    This video only serves as an example of the elk’s dangerous behavior,
    not an impetus to it.”

  • edro3111

    The elk was euthanized by the park service because of it’s approaching people. Probably had been fed by tourists which is a total no-no in national parks. Sad but that’s what happens when people break laws. It was a beautiful animal.

  • AJ Tyne

    I really think the elk was young and trying to play with him. I’m not an elk expert, but the more I look at the video, the more playful it looks — especially compared to his behavior when he is scared, like when the man stood up and when the vehicle drove toward him. Of course, that doesn’t make it safe for the man! It was the person who made the video that emailed the man later and asked why he sat there so long — so I think maybe the onlookers thought the man wanted to play that game OR they just didn’t know what to do and were afraid any action on their parts might put the man in danger. I was a dangerous situation, but amazing that the elk felt so comfy as to try to play with the human!

  • Daniel Perez

    i think the elk wanted to steal his camera equipment.

  • ounkeo

    He was obviously in danger. The elk took him as another buck that’s why the headbutting. Later on it started to lunge. It was getting more aggressive. A few more minutes could have turned fatal.

  • David Bourne

    This elk was later killed by park staff because of it’s lack of wariness around humans. As many commenters have said, wild animals get used to humans when we feed them.

    So don’t feed dangerous wildlife. It gets them killed and puts people at risk, too.

  • Dani

    He turned into harassment towards the elk when he didn’t back away when the elk was approaching him. Animals are going to be curious we can not control that but we can control how we react to their advancements.
    He had a wide angle lens on, he clearly wasn’t there to shoot wildlife.

  • DiscoChicken

    The elk is now dead. Add 300lbs, a large rack, and pumping testosterone in rut and he would hurt someone. Too bad

  • Marc E.

    Please tell me it’s not true that the elk was later killed.

  • Amanda

    There was one point when the photographer put up his index finger. It looked like he said “one second” like he wanted people to wait…

  • ColleenMA

    But there’s a difference between looking over your shoulder and turning head-on at it.

  • InTheMist

    Sadly true. He had lost his fear of humans, making him a danger to himself and visitors. This wasn’t the first time.

  • Joan Dix Jakubowski

    Perhaps that is why the ranger DID come by, someone called him….

  • Jeff

    The elk has been eutanized so he won’t have to be scared anymore. :-(

  • Transcend

    The elk was put to sleep. If anyone is still wondering whether or not it’s ok to get out of your cars and allow yourself to get this close to the elk at Cataloochee, perhaps read the GMNP’s final response to the sad episode:

  • Veronica

    shouldn’t the lesson be, “Be careful around WILD animals and don’t get too close to them?” Unfortunately, the elk paid the price by being put down, though the photographer was in the elks environment, and when it felt threatened it came over to investigate. If the elk wanted to do a lot of damage, it would have. What consequence is there to the ridiculous man who did not move? None!!! Sad. .

  • ColleenMA

    Agreed, that’s very probable.

  • Kristen Previte

    Maybe it’s just me, but he was still taking photos. That would indicate to me that he didn’t WANT anyone to intervene. If he was wanting aid, don’t you think he would’ve said something like “help”? It doesn’t seem fair to judge those around him without looking at how much he was helping himself. He wasn’t even waving the elk off with his camera, just trying to get the shot. My faith is still with humanity.

  • Elsa Blue

    Too bad the photographer wasn’t euthanized instead of the elk.