A couple of weeks ago I was able to participate in a University of Montana Wildlife Biology class field trip to the western end of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding landscape in southern Phillips County. I was one of the speakers to the class along with other long time friends and colleagues (there aren't many people in Eastern Montana and even fewer working with wildlife so many of us have know each other for many years). It was great to see people representing so many different interests in this area all talk about one commonality - how important this landscape and its outstanding wildlife values are to all of us. I was also able to bring my two outstanding interns and new fellow biologist along with me to learn more about how others look at and manage this land.
One of the stops on Friday night was an area closed to hunting near where Highway 191 crosses the Missouri River. This time of year the elk are well into the rut and there were many large bulls bugling (not really bugling though - more like a whistled screaming grunt) right next to the road in the Missouri River bottom.
There were a few hundred elk in the area and they were very active. Many of the bulls were located right next to the road and were vigorously defending their small groups of cow elk from the other bulls.
It was getting quite dark and I had to really push the ISO on my camera to capture anything.
The other challenge in getting photos was figuring out how to avoid the mass of people lined up along the road. Prior to getting to the viewing area the class was learning about management on the CMR further up the road and we watched car after car head down the gravel road towards the elk. I have never seen that many cars heading down that road in such a short period of time. When we finally arrived at the viewing area the road was lined with cars and people and on a small bluff above the road there were between 15 and 20 campers parked with their awnings rolled out and tables set up watching the show. Although it would have been nice to have the place to ourselves, it have to admit I was impressed with the number of people that had gathered to merely watch wildlife - something that doesn't happen that much out here.