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)

  • Ngoc

    it seems that the Elk is just trying to play with him. Usually aggressive Elk will make nose when attacking.

  • mountain girl

    Sascha, it’s people with your attitude that usually end up at our local hospital from elk encounters. That baby is a few hundred pounds, and practicing his rutting skills that will eventually get him a harom. People like you and this photographer that desensitize them to humans and make the whole thing more dangerous for all the responsible people in the parks.

  • Jeff McGrath

    Uh…. do you realize how sharp their hooves are? They attack with extremely powerful kicks and run you down.

    They’re extremely dangerous, horns aside. This is why does & sows are still so dangerous.

  • Jeff Keniston

    I saw that photographer at holiday inn last night

  • Rah

    The elk was so clearly playing! No way that was “aggression”. You can especially tell by the way he starts prodding at the guy with its hoves. Hes just trying to get the guy to play with him. Is it still a very dangerous situation? YES, without a doubt. Is it aggression? Absolutely not!

  • rusureuwant2know

    I agree there was real danger, but the young elk was awfully skittish; the minute the guy stood up the elk
    spooked – all he would have had to do is make a lot of noise and wave his arms and stand up and this one would have certainly run.

  • cewing

    that was totally awesome for the elk!! a few things that photog did wrong. when the elk got closer they should have moved back behind a car, sitting down was the worst mistake. then the photog looked it in the eye. had they been a REAL wildlife photographer, they know do NOT do that. the elk was frustrated being photographed and the photog STILL took his photos, im all for the elk, and if the photog had gotten hurt, too bad for him. maybe now the photographer will respect the wildlife, and a poor photographer? no way..more like poor elk. im a wildlife photographer, and I know if they move towards you, you don’t turn your back on them, but you DO move back, give them their space, put something between you and them and by ALL means you do NOT lower yourself below them. this dude, deserved that scare

  • Karen

    the elk just wanted to borrow the guys hat lol

  • antoinepgrew

    This elk wanted to play. This wasn’t aggression. We can have 20 elk around our cottage at one time. Mama and the babies eat the shoots. The young bucks are curious, will stick their nose in your garbage bags when you walk through them holding garbage bags, backup and do that little dance thing, and stick their noses up your shirt or down your pants. The short antlers show this is a young ‘teenage boy’ elk, maybe his first set (elk lose them over the winter, and regrow every year).

  • antoinepgrew

    Or the chest, right below the neck.

  • Ivor Wilson

    I agree, I know nothing about Elk, having never encountered any, and I bow to your and others’ knowledge of them, but my point is that in this particular situation, it did not appear that the Elk had any intention of seriously harming him. Granted, he may have been injured by a stray hoof or antler, and it may indeed have become more aggressive, but surely we can consider the fact that it didn’t to be a positive? I’m not for a second advocating getting to close to this animal, but surely, with the photographer being on the road, he isn’t exactly in the Elk’s territory? It looks like the Elk approached him, not the other way around.

  • jordan

    It seems more like the elk was trying to get hit to play. It was provoking the human in this case. Obviously there is a danger factor but it looked like its true intentions were just to have fun

  • Guu

    Admittedly, I’m sure people weren’t just sure about what to do. Approaching could have made situation worse? Or maybe not? I would have been lost and confused and not knowing whether to move forward to scare the elk off or stay back ….

  • Dover

    ” the elk was frustrated being photographed”

    You actually think the elk realized it was being photographed? This is a cloven hoofed beast. It has NO concept of photography.

  • Ivor Wilson

    …and before anyone points it out – no, I’m not suggesting that the Elk should adhere to road / forest boundaries. :)

  • Dover

    I can’t believe I am the first one to mention that the video quality itself was pretty good, Whoever shot the video did a great job. Fairly shallow DOF which makes the video look that much more high end. HD, Great exposure and light. Usually on these impromptu videos you get a train wreck of issues while someone tries to capture the moment. Kudos to the videographer.

    Next issue: Why, when bystanders see someone about to get gored by a creature more than twice the size of the potential victim, do they not drive their car between the elk and the photographer in distress? It is a human you self centered schmucks. Help them out!

  • beehive

    Why not – If we don’t keep the Elk in their place they will rise up, better we oppress them or else we will all end up with an Elk standing on our heads.

  • beehive

    Please present your Elk credentials.

  • beehive

    Especially for stupid people

  • Leonardo Abreu

    Nobody helped… It’s just the end of the world.

  • Jennifer G

    He was probably trying to stay calm to avoid agitating the elk any further.

  • Cathy Murphy

    Why was this moron harassing wildlife. The other people were wise to stay in their car and not get hurt but rather proof that this guy was the instigator!

  • Cathy Murphy

    The guy should not have been that close. You don’t need to be a biologist to know this. But maybe you do, so as a biologist, I will tell you stay the hell away or pay! It is a simple poem remember it!

  • Cathy Murphy

    Right so be intelligent enough to stay away from danger. Obviously this man is very stupid! Evolution has a way of working itself out!!

  • Cathy Murphy

    Biologist are my credentials!

  • Cathy Murphy

    Scare the human who was harassing the wildlife! I am just a wildlife biologist what do I know?

  • Chris Malmberg

    If everyone lived by that rule, we wouldn’t have very many interesting photographs to look at, now would we?

  • Cathy Murphy

    My would someone risk their life for a person who choose to put himself in harms way?

  • Cathy Murphy

    What about the elk? Why does he have the right to be harassed by some unprofessional? This was clearly an unprofessional. I see it all the time in our great National Parks.

  • Cathy Murphy

    No he looks like a wennie. That city slicker would need a gun!

  • jrconner

    Never get out of your car to photograph a large wild animal. Some may appear tame, but they’re not domesticated and can be dangerous once they’ve lost their fear of humankind. A closeup isn’t worth getting gored, butted, or kicked by a sharp hoof.

  • Cathy Murphy

    True but National Geographic photographers are professionals and usually know their limitations. They often keep a safe distance and use something called a zoom lens.

  • Sue4466

    That’s why we have telephoto lenses. Or do you really think photographers walk right up to bears and tigers?

  • Cathy Murphy

    “humanity” should not have been bullying the elk (moron)!

  • Sue4466

    It’s not pedantic to realize that being stabbed with an antler or being kicked to death is, actually, a pretty horrible death.

  • Chris Malmberg

    You walk right up to bears and tigers.

  • lewlorton

    yes, but can you walk away?

  • Transcend

    This guy was obviously in violation of the park policy of
    not getting within 150 feet of the elk. He should not have sat there
    when the elk first approached and was probably too close to begin with.
    What does he think he is, the elk whisperer? He’s not. I’m sorry but
    this is very uncool. There ought not be this kind of human/elk
    interaction. It is a bad precedent for the safety of the elk to
    encourage this proximity to humans. It’s not a game. And even though the
    elk was young, the guy could easily have been hurt. But I’m more
    concerned for the safety of the elk and that they don’t learn to get
    aggressive with humans, and that, for their own well-being, they stay in
    the habit of keeping their distance. Same problem with people feeding
    them. Otherwise, someone will get hurt and the elk that did it will get
    put down. He’s jeopardizing both the elk’s well-being and people’s
    opportunity to enjoy them.

  • Chris Malmberg

    I was being a smart ass. Apparently nobody gets that.

  • Jae

    I have been around many elk. This elk was not trying to cause trouble he was trying to play. He has probably been hand fed by humans in his young life and does not have a natural fear of people.

  • Dino

    I agree. The photographer seemed to be choosing to stay in place for a while to see if the buck would back off of him, and he tried to get more photo shots in when the animal would back off. He had more than one opportunity to stand up and walk away but he never did, and he never called or signaled for help at all and he certainly had plenty of opportunity to do so. The minute he stood up and was taller than the buck, the animal backed off right away. The photographer knew what he was doing and didn’t hesitate to get back out of the vehicle to rescue his equipment. He knew the animal would back off as long as he was standing and taller than it was which is pretty typical. As soon as you get down, the animal feels safer to approach.

  • Aces8

    That was my thought, as well. Didn’t look like a violent incident at all.

    Had the elk wanted to hurt him, he would’ve.

  • Wowzors

    That man was in serious risk of having his thoracic cavity or airway compromised by that young bull. I had a friend who almost bled out from an antler that penetrated his femoral. This guy almost won a Darwin for his attempt to be at one with nature.

  • zebbe

    professional or not, Zoom lens or not, as if you can predict an animal getting close to you, other than the ones that you “shoot” with your camera…
    Accidents do happen. Nothing tells you that this man isn’t a professional himself.

  • AZGurl

    Did you read it? The elk approached the photographer, who was sitting at distance. The man did not get close, the elk did.

    But yes! Anyone could have driven close and honked and run the elk off, when it was obvious he was getting more aggressive!

  • AmberFlames

    You seem to have missed part of the point. The elk doesn’t have to have an “intention” of hurting you. That elk could continue to “play” and still kill someone, given their considerable bulk. As Mountain Girl said, all that elk has to do is go up on his hind legs and stomp a few times. He’d be dead.

  • RR

    This elk will be the first killed next year because these people are teaching him to not have fear of humans. Selfish and yet another way we exploit animals because WE can. I’m not anti hunting, it’s just a fact.

  • DaBag

    It’s all fun and games til someone gets their eye poked out.

  • Wind Dancer

    I think the elk was just playing. Also I find it very strange that when it was giving it’s attention to the man no one did anything, but how easy it was to rescue the equipment.

  • Betty Anne

    Or it could have gotten angry, charged, and caught him in the abdomen or chest, just as he feared. Young males are especially unpredictable in the fall when they’re willing to take on challengers.