"As an early season snowstorm ends, a dominant bull and his cows move out of the protection of the dark, coniferous forest into a meadow and start their evening feeding. A bugle from the herd bull reminds the cows and lesser bulls who is in charge. This is the setting for Storm’s End – Rocky Mountain Elk.
A pair of gray jays or ‘camp robbers’ sits on nearby young spruce. This tame jay frequents remote cabins and backcountry camps looking for bits of food or small items to carry off while showing little fear of man. Though this bold jay comes readily to a campfire or the sound of wilderness campers, it avoids human settlements. Frequently, on trips far into wilderness areas, I have enjoyed sharing my lunch with gray jays. Though I’ve gotten this attractive bird to come within six inches of my hand, I have yet to get one to take food directly from it.
Another resident of the high country, a red squirrel is active in a nearby spruce. Red squirrels feed on fungi, nuts, and seeds including those from conifers such as pine and spruce. At times when I am backpacking very light, without a tent or sleeping pad, I’ve made a comfortable bed under huge, ancient spruce, where cones shredded by generations of squirrels have been building up for decades. If I choose my bed carefully, the drooping spruce branches shed the light, high country showers. On the downside, I have more than once had a quiet stalk on big game loudly announced by the resident red squirrel as it chatters from the branches of a nearby conifer.
The breeding season for Rocky Mountain elk runs from September into October. The bulls, which hung together in bachelor groups all summer, now compete for the cows. A mature bull, which is large enough to hold a group of cows, will be on the constant lookout for lesser bulls trying to steal cows from him. Between tending to his cows and chasing off rival bulls, the herd bull has little time to feed. By the end of rut, or the breeding season, the dominant bulls will have lost much weight.
The reference material for Storm’s End came primarily from two different reference trips. The first one was a 1990 muzzleloader hunting trip for elk in the Colorado high country in mid-September. We had a heavy snowfall during the night. I was sleeping in the back of my pickup topper. Upon being awakened by a hunting companion carrying a flashlight, I asked if it was time to get ready for hunting. He indicated that it wasn’t. The heavy snowfall had collapsed the tent in which my three hunting partners were sleeping. Having had enough, they packed their gear and took off for Iowa the next morning. Fortunately, I had driven separately so I would be free to photograph at my leisure. I spent the next few days shooting rolls of film, which years later became reference material for the background of Storm’s End – Rocky Mountain Elk.
On the second trip in September 1991, I attended a wildlife artists’ symposium in Yellowstone National Park. Wanting to attend many of the classes, I was torn between sitting in class or being out photographing the rutting elk of Yellowstone. The 35 rolls of slides I brought back indicate which choice I made most days!"
- Larry Zach
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