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

    I agree… even if it was “playing” it could have hurt him, but you seem to have missed *my* point – it didn’t!

  • Debbie Lamplough

    Any body with an ounce of common sense knows you do not get that close to a Bull elk’s ladies and the young. Also you always stay alert to your surroundings. This would not of happened if this person would of followed the laws of the land. The bull has been tagged, so if it is in or around any situation it will be killed. So PLEASE keep your distance and have your camera equipment with you(proper). Telephoto lens would of given him better shots.

  • michele fitzwilliam

    So I’m in my suburban yet I don’t honk the horn or drive closer to try to help?

  • Island In The Sky

    Fascinating video. I wonder if he had any idea that he was bringing the headbutts on further each time (purely and understandably as a defensive move) he lowered his head? As for the onlookers not coming to his aid, it seems to me all the man had to do was say “help” loudly and I would surely hope one of those motorists would have then driven up to frighten the elk away.

  • Noah A. Azelas

    Can’t say I sensed any kind of imminent peril. Seems as though the young bull-elk acted out of curiosity, not animosity. I admire the photographer for persistently trying to hearken to the non-human animal, instead of acting in a foolhardy manner. My thanks, for this incredible footage!

  • Kristen

    My thoughts exactly

  • Phil Nittolo

    I personally don’t think he was in any danger. This elk was NOT in the mood to hurt anyone, just curious…

  • disqusPoster

    The guy is lucky that elk didn’t put a hoof or antler through his face. Fascinating to watch though.

  • Rick Kuhn

    They were too busy getting their photos and didn;t give a crap about the danger to the guy.

  • Linda

    When that young elk started with his striking out with his front legs it should have been the sign that he meant business and for someone to get that photographer out of immediate danger by offering him safety in a car like the white SUV did.

  • ron

    I live in a National Park that has hundreds of elk living close to town. This guy was very lucky…stupid but lucky ! Last year we had 2 towns people hurt and 3 dogs that had to be put down courtesy of elk. The leaves on the trees say that it is rutting season and this “Darwin” award contestant could easily been killed with either the antlers or front hooves. It is an inmature bull but it will weight 500 lbs. on the hoof. It was not “playing” with the guy, he was practicing for the future. Only person on here that knows the dangers is mountain girl…I would hope you read her posts and take heed .

  • Sondra

    I’d like to see the pics he took close up when the elk was on him.

  • james pogrebetsky

    Went right over YOUR head. Based on the response he got, and that he EDITED, he clearly meant gun the first time around. I guess it also went over the heads of the 4 people that liked Ivors comment huh and the people that disliked Joses?

  • Janee

    Cathy you may be a biologist but clearly you are not a reader. According to reports “the photographer had been keeping a respectful distance” when the elk approached him. He wasn’t chasing or throwing stuff or “harassing” the elk. And since it all ended well I’m going to take that as he behaved appropriately instead of making a situation worse.

  • Danny

    The wildlife in the Smoky Mountains often approach you. It’s easy to get distracted photographing one animal and have another one work their way to you. The problem isn’t being able to get close enough to photograph the wildlife there. Often the problem is keeping them from approaching too close.

  • Terri Brewer Sierra

    Doing what the average, safe Joe does only gets average, safe results. Sometimes the spectacular is made by taking chances. It all depends on what you value and what you are trying to achieve. Having said that, I was hoping the white car would just inch up and try to get between them. If anything is going to get gored, it would be better the car than the man!

  • steve ducell

    the photographer was practicing “stand your ground”………..

  • steve ducell

    Hummmm………….reminds me of the Vulcan Mind Meld, Live Long and Prosper!

  • Eugene Chok

    Robert Capa would completely agree with you, then again that guy decided a beach on D day was a good day to take photographs… mind you he was also correct about that too

  • DamOTclese2

    What a dumbass.

  • Jo

    I don’t see the problem here. Seems the elk just wanted to borrow the guy’s hat.

  • BassDuck

    Jesus, the guy was obviously comfortable with the situation, if he needed help, he could have easily asked yelled to the many people for help or just shouted and waved his arms like some one below stated. Quit bitching about how he was mortaly in danger and enjoy the fkn video. You could also die from jumping out of a plane or off a building but people do it all the time. People get their kicks from different places and this obviously tickles this guys fancy so STFU you bloody sheeple.

  • Geary Wootten

    Most replies on here are too funny. This guy was in basically ZERO danger. Anyone who’s ever been around animals, wild or not, would know this. This buck was merely curious. He wasn’t doing anything other than saying a friendly “hello” to this fellow and wondered if there was anything good to eat in the equipment bag. End of story. If it was dangerous the kicks and horribly hard goring would’ve ensued immediately. This guy has been around a LOT of tourists.

  • Marci

    And if the man had been hurt, skewered by the elk, they would have killed the elk for attacking a human, when in fact, it was the man who actually encroached on the animals territory. It was the man who provoked it.

  • blueeyedwolf

    I would say a good 90% of people leaving comments on here are a little slow on the uptake when it comes to animals…especially, it seems, the “biologist”. If you knew anything about them, you would see that this young buck is being quite gentle, quite playful. He “could have” slashed at him with his hooves….”could have” gored him with his antlers…but he didn’t…and yes, even “playfulness” with animals such as these, or any animal (wild or not), “could” leave a human wounded or dead, but only because our skin is much softer and we are much more frail than them…no harm WAS done, on either side!
    I think this was fantastic! The fact that he started out at a respectable distance, shows that sometimes, even those trying to be responsible, stuff happens! Not his fault, not the bucks….no one is at fault in this- it just is…and it turned out awesome! It doesn’t always…and that is unfortunate…but why have such negativity?

  • waltkeys

    Cudos to the person in the white Honda. The other people just sat there watching, hoping to see a fellow human being impaled before their eyes. Way to go you heartless humans! God bless anyone who would have stepped forward and calmly defended the photographer. The Buck was protecting his own and we should too!
    Simple lesson to be learned and those other jerks missed it. I’ve confronted bears, whales and many other animals in my time, they make way more sense than we do!

  • Ashley Guzman

    It really looks like he is just playing. He wasn’t serious in his attempts to battle and he’s so little (for an elk). Very dangerous to have one that isn’t fearful of humans, I see nothing good coming out of that in his future.

  • Andrew Kandel

    It is his fault. Legally, a visitor to a US National Park is expected to maintain at least a 25 yard distance between him or herself and a wild animal. If the animal approaches you, as presumably the more thoughtful party you are expected to move away from the animal at the earliest opportunity. He put himself in a dangerous position, by sitting down, and letting the elk approach him. If he were in a National Park out here in the West, he would’ve been ticketed, for certain, for putting himself in a dangerous position (sitting down and letting an elk approach) and possibly banned for a year.

    As somebody who photographs often in National Parks, it is this sort of ridiculous behavior from photographers that makes it more and more difficult to photograph wildlife because the Park Service is creating more and more stringent rules. He got famous. The elk will likely be put down. And the rest of us photographers will suffer.

  • Rand0Mone

    Grammar Gestapo. Get a life.

  • Rand0Mone


  • Rand0Mone

    I agree, the video is excellent!
    I disagree about the bystanders though. It seemed obvious that the guy was not in any immediate danger.

  • Rand0Mone

    How do you know whether or not the dude is an Elk Whisperer? Why do you feel that “he was probably too close to being with”? Sorry to be negative, but you come across as some kind of know-it-all.

  • steve case

    there had to be some scent on him or the equipment.

  • Rand0Mone

    Are you joking?? It is a more serious risk to drive a vehicle on public roads. Check the statistics.

  • Barry

    I saw no elk bullying. In fact, being a photographer by trade, I believe the man to actually be a pro. He handled the situation in a calm non-confrontational way, got what I’m sure are some fantastic photos, and made his exit the first real chance he got. It seems to me cathy, that you do not care for humans much, or maybe it’s just men. In any case you seem to be using your position as a “biologist”, which we just have to take your word for I guess, and get on a soap box to try to make a point about animal cruelty and harassment (both of which never occurred in the video). Being defensive and angry is not a very pragmatic approach to getting your point across. In fact almost every photographer I know is in their own way a biologist, and I’ve never seen any of them disrespecting our environment. Granted, this guy found himself in a sticky situation, but I believe he did his best to get out of it without injury to himself AND the young bull elk.

  • Rand0Mone

    If all people move away when an animal approaches, it teaches the animal to not fear people, and maybe even to be more aggressive.

  • Rand0Mone

    The guy just wanted to share his two scents with the Elk.

  • Guy Post

    Okay…I have read through some of these comments…

    First off the plural of “elk” is “elk.” Not “elks.”

    Second…Am I the only one that caught what this guy said?

    “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!'”

    A male elk is referred to as a “bull.”

  • kenny

    I agree. The actions of the photographer were selfish and set others up for trouble potentially. Many media and art creators think they get a free pass just because they have a camera. If he didn’t have a camera in his hand, I think most would see his actions in a whole different light and generally inexcusable.

  • Ivor Wilson

    Well said Barry.

  • Ivor Wilson

    Er… the Elk was clearly next to the road. 150 yard “exclusion zone”? What about the cars driving along the road? Should they divert their route into the forest in order to adhere to this 150 yard rule?

  • Ivor Wilson

    “…attempt to be at one with nature”? What video did you watch? He was taking photographs and was approached by the Elk.

  • Ivor Wilson

    Couldn’t agree more… well said.

  • Ivor Wilson

    What are you babbling about? Why on Earth would the Elk be put down? If that Elk was put down as a result of this non-event, it’s those responsible for that ridiculous, knee-jerk, sensationalist decision who should be held to account.

  • Kelpie

    Funny how going into animals natural habitats and taking photographs of them is seen as ‘respectful’ and then when the animals decide ‘this is my home…what the hell is that!?!’ and investigate they’re seen as aggressive and dangerous. Like…what? Let’s see which human will let me walk into their home at ANY time or date of the year and sit there for as long as I like taking photo’s, let’s watch humans turn aggressive then!! But obviously that isn’t the same, considering humans are obviously much better and far more important than these animals. Uchd. Didn’t like this article at all, no research into the animals behavior and why he did what he did, no full investigation into exactly what the photographer had done to attract it’s attention…just someone plonking a video onto a page and typing ‘Poor defenseless hooman. Let’s feel sorry for him.’ Whatever.

  • McGurt

    I thought you were a biologist. Learn to spell. I would have simply but a bullet in this elk and ate him at home.You’re just one of those weirdos that think wildlife has more rights than humans. Go eat an elk dick and choke on it.

  • McGurt

    Go away Cathy. Somewhere, a fanatical animal rights activist group misses you.

  • Transcend

    Uh, the park policy would state that you would not get out of your car in that case. If you go to Cataloochee and talk to the rangers and Park workers, they will tell you what a problem this is: people are teaching the elk to interact with humans (and to approach humans) by feeding them, getting this close, etc. It is a serious danger to the elk. Visit the Great Smokey Mtns Facebook page and you’ll see that this video was posted along with a statement basically identical to mine in content, but much stronger in tone.

  • Transcend

    I think no one saw the need to help him because he was remaining there by choice. He wanted close-up pictures. At any time he could have stood and walked away. It appears that he felt he was in no apparent danger.

  • Transcend

    That’s because people feed them and encourage them to get close. The animals don’t know better, the people should.