I had planned on making the two hour trip north from Billings on a weekday night to avoid the large crowds that form on weekend evenings and the weather this week looked favorable.
The viewing areas is a section of the refuge bordered on the south by the Missouri River and a gallery of large Cottonwood trees and willows. A dirt road runs roughly parallel with the river and in between the trees and the road is a rather large open meadow area that I believe used to be irrigated hay fields. There are also large patches of greasewood bordering the meadow and trees. The elk spend the bulk of the day out of sight along the river under the trees, but as the sun sinks low in the evening they begin to filter out of the trees to forage in meadows and the hills on the other side of the road to the north. Some nights the road is completely lined with vehicles waiting for the elk to emerge. When I arrived there were only a couple other vehicles near my usual spot. I turned off my vehicle and immediately heard elk bugling in the trees and there was also a noticeable high pitched whine in the air. I had managed to avoid the crowds of people, but not the crowds of mosquitoes. They were horrible due the some recent heavy rains. Even the Boreal Chorus Frogs were singing again.
The elk action started out slow. Even though I could hear a few bulls bugling in the trees, it seemed that there were fewer elk in this portion of the viewing area than in the past. I visited with a few folks I knew from Billings and after a while with only a couple of distant bulls moving in and out of the trees, they decided to move further down the road to where there were more cars parked and it appeared a herd of elk were moving closer to the road. I stuck it out at my spot and soon a rather rough looking bull and a couple of cows emerged from the trees in front of me.
They were soon joined by a few more cows and calves and the bull continued to move back and forth behind the cows between them and the other bulls I could hear back in the trees. This situation didn't last for long. Soon another group of cows emerged from behind the curtain of trees and on their heels was a bull.
It was apparent rather quickly that he ruled the area. As soon as he emerged, my rough looking bull turned tail and headed away from the cows and he was quickly escorted out of the area by the new bull.
The cows slowly fed out of the greasewood to an open area directly in front of me and soon the bull joined them. I kept an eye on the bull as he patrolled the area between the cows and the treeline and was privileged to an evening of elk before the daylight faded.