Roosevelt Elk At Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

Earlier this fall, my wife Kerry and I took a trip up to Redwood National and State Parks in northern California. As we got up to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we stopped at Elk Meadow, a popular spot to see one of the few herds of Roosevelt Elk that survive in and around the Redwood parks.

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

As it was fall, we were treated to witnessing rutting season, the time of year where bull elks assert their dominance in the quest for female attention. It was readily apparent who the big, dominant bull was, decoratively adorned with straw hanging from his antlers. The regularity of his bugles told us that he had a high opinion of himself!

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

After a while he realized his vocalizations were having no effect on his fellow elk. Obviously, he needed more straw! He quickly set about redecorating himself.

A male Roosevelt elk sits in a pile to hay, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk sits in a pile to hay, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

Exhausted from his efforts of showing off, he took a bit of a snooze in the grass.

Roosevelt elk is the largest of the four surviving subspecies of elk in North America. Today Roosevelt elk in California persist only in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, and western Siskiyou County. Seven elk herds call Redwood National and State Parks home, although at times these herds become loose aggregations of smaller groups. Although this is a pretty easy large mammal to see in North America, I always delight at their antics, whether it is during the fall rut or the spring calving season.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Roosevelt Elk

A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

Roosevelt Elk are the largest of the remaining four subspecies of elk in North America. I photographed these elk in northern California, just south of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. They travel in a herd of about 30-40, and can usually be seen grazing or lazing about on either side of highway 101 in the mornings and evenings. I have seen them about 50% of the times I pass through that area, and it is always worth a quick stop to photograph them.

A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

The herd is mostly made up of females and calves, but there are a few young bulls sprinkled here and there. This male kept pretty far away from the dirt road from which I was photographing, but occasionally he emerged from the brush to give me some clear views.

A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

As with any wild animal, photographing them takes special care and etiquette. Especially with large mammals, keeping your distance and being extremely vigilant around them is of utmost importance, both for your safety and theirs. Using a long lens is a necessity in order to stay far enough away so that they don’t get agitated. I’ve seen too many tourists approaching with small point and shoot cameras, trying to get close enough to get a reasonable shot. In these cases, it is much better to just admire them from a distance, and if you must have a photo, go buy a postcard from a local merchant!

A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California
A roosevelt elk grazes with its herd in Northern California

In a world of ever encroaching human presence, it is a joy to see a large herd like this living fairly undisturbed. Next time you are planning a road trip, do some research before hand and look for any wildlife viewing areas along your route. You never know when you might be treated to a personal experience with large wild animals.