I heard my first bugle yesterday.
As I sometimes do when I can’t sleep, I took an early-morning drive to Buffalo Bill State Park just west of town and sat at a picnic table near the parking lot to await the sunrise. Watching Yellowstone Country awaken somehow energizes me, and when I see the sun rise above the water I know that my day is off to a great start.
Except for the occasional car or truck heading west towards Yellowstone on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, I was alone with my latte. I could see slight ripples in the water and hear a light wind rustling the sagebrush. The quiet sounds of an autumn morning in Yellowstone Country were breached – quite jarringly – by a male elk. I didn’t see him in the dawn light at first. But I certainly heard him.
His bugle started as sort of a low-octave whistle, but it quickly escalated to a high-pitched squeal. It is a sound that is wild, grating and not particularly pleasant, particularly when you’re still on your first coffee of the day. It’s not meant to be a pleasant sound. Fall is rutting season, and a bull elk bugles to warn other bulls to stay away or face a fight. It’s also a way bulls let cows know of their availability and fitness for mating. Rutting season can be a dangerous time for both bulls and humans, as these 700-pound behemoths are often grumpy until they find a date.
I sat at the picnic table quite still as I realized my predicament as a lone human in a rugged country with an elk whose whereabouts had not yet been revealed. I thought about the rules of living with wildlife. Leave them alone and keep your distance. I eyed the brick restrooms in the parking lot and estimated how quickly I could run to them.
My worry was unnecessary, though, as I spotted the elk about a hundred yards to the west as he emerged from a dense cluster of trees for a drink of water. I wasn’t the girl he was seeking; he didn’t notice my presence. Thirst quenched, he raised his head and again bugled, this time escalating quickly to the highest pitch as he slowly turned his head in my direction.
Although he probably didn’t see me, that was my cue to be on my way and let this young man continue his quest in the quiet of a Yellowstone Country morning.
I know I will hear many more bugles as autumn progresses, but this first one is what I will remember most. I drove home hoping that bull elk’s day would be as productive as I knew mine would be after my memorable encounter with an elk in Yellowstone Country.
Until next time, I’m appreciating the wild encounters and loving life here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.