The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Beaver
Story Of The Lion
Story Of The Elk
Story Of The Tiger.
Story Of The Mountain- Lion
Story Of The Camel
Story Of The Jaguar
Story Of The Buffalo.
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Story Of The Elk
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The fiercest and most interesting combat I ever witnessed between wild animals was a struggle between two male elk for the leadership of a herd.
The challenger was a fine bull weighing about a thousand pounds. He had been roaming solitary and suddenly had come upon a herd at the head of which was a bull almost his equal in weight and beauty.
As he approached the herd, or harem, as it is called sometimes, the challenger blew a loud whistle of defiance. If the reader will take a half-pint bottle and blow strongly into it, a similar sound will be produced. This whistle was at once answered by the ruler of the herd, who stepped boldly forth to do battle with the intruder. With heads lowered between their fore-feet, the two adversaries walked around waiting for an opening. The leader of the herd was the first to be thrown off his guard, and the other made a savage rush at him. The leader instantly recovered, and countered the charge. As they rushed together their antlers struck with such terrific force that the report could be heard half a mile away. Then they slowly retreated, bellowing, grumbling, and grinding their teeth in a paroxysm of rage. Again they circled around and when an opportunity offered again they clashed. This continued for sometime, and I noticed that the leader of the herd was growing weaker at each successive encounter. He was now fighting on the defensive, while the intruding elk kept up his aggressive charges.
At last the leader of the herd could no longer meet the assaults of his stronger antagonist. He was caught off his guard. The intruder made a fierce charge. The other turned to meet it, but he was not fast enough, and received a frightful wound in the flank from his assailant.
The leader sullenly retired, bellowing as he went, and the intruder installed himself at the head of the herd and led his wives in a different direction from the wounded animal. I put the wounded animal out of pain and secured a beautiful pair of antlers.
The wapiti, commonly called the elk, is the largest representative of the deer family in America. Full-grown stags have been shot by me, the weight of which was over a thousand pounds. They measure as high as six feet (eighteen hands). The antlers sometimes measure sixty-four to sixty-six inches in length.
The range of the wapiti has of late years been greatly restricted by the advance of civilization, until now the animal is nearly extinct. The wapiti was formerly found in nearly all parts of the United States, in Mexico, and in Canada, as far north as the 60th parallel of north latitude; but it has vanished before the approach of civilization, and is now found only in the remotest mountain fastnesses west of the Missouri River, or in the great forests of British America. The largest herds now remaining outside of the National Yellowstone Park are found in the Olympic Mountains of _Washington, and among the mountains of Vancouver Island. There are still some remaining in the Cascade and Rocky ranges, but they do not congregate there in large herds as they do in the Coast ranges. Less than ten years ago there were many secluded districts in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, where, during the late autumn and winter, wapiti might be seen banded together in herds numbering many thousands of individuals; whereas now, it is seldom that any can be found together.
The general habits of the wapiti seem to be very similar to those of the red deer, the old stags living apart from the main herd during the greater part of the year; and in the pairing-season taking exclusive possession of a party of hinds, after having vanquished their rivals in fight. The shedding of the antlers is late, generally taking place in the full-grown stags during the latter part of December or the first half of January. The new antlers begin to sprout in March or April, and are fully complete by the middle of August.
When wapiti were found on the great prairies, the Indians were accustomed to hunt them on horseback by forming a wide circle of mounted men, from whom a certain number were detached to harass the unfortunate animals until they were brought to a standstill. Another favorite method was by forming a cordon of horsemen and driving a whole herd over a precipice. At the present day the more sportsman-like method of hunting is, however, almost exclusively employed; and it appears that the wapiti is an animal far less difficult to approach than the red deer, while it is killed by a comparatively slight wound.
The 'wapiti swims well, and is fond of the water. He feeds upon lichens, young shoots of trees, wild vines and various grasses. His cry is very peculiar, something like the shrill sound of a railway whistle, and audible at the distance of a mile. His flesh is well-flavored and nutritious; and his skin is much used in the manufacture of belts, thongs and moccasins. The teeth are worn by the Indians as a personal decoration.
In the autumn, in the pride of his strength, he fears no enemy; and in the company of his wives, that look to him for the protection which he is ever ready to afford, passes the hours safe from the attacks of those animals which at other seasons make him their prey. In the deep snow of winter he can neither fly nor oppose a successful resistance to his foes, that set upon him in troops; and in the spring, when thin and feeble from the want of necessary pasturage, and deprived of his horns, that drop off during the early months of the year, he is but, a semblance of his former self, and can make only a feeble defense against the most insignificant of his enemies. At such a time he keeps in the thickets, as much out of sight as possible, shunning the company of even his own species, and remaining a recluse until his horns are grown again.
During spring and summer the bulls herd by themselves. The females run together in small numbers, accompanied by their fawns. They have few means of defense when thus absent from their lords, and if set upon by any roving animal, are obliged to place all their hope of escape in their speed. A most formidable enemy to them is the puma, which, fortunately for them, is but seldom met with. This animal is the largest and most powerful of the cats which live in the districts inhabited by the wapiti. This powerful animal is possessed of great cunning, as the following instance will show. A hunter, in pursuit of a puma, or panther, as it is often called in America, for a greater portion of a day, after proceeding some time, observed that he came again and again upon a man's track, mingled with that of the puma; and he soon became conscious that the crafty animal had made a circuit, and had got behind, having thus become the pursuer in place of remaining the pursued. Instead of going any farther he quickly stepped behind a tree, and with his gun presented and ready, awaited the approach of his disagreeable attendant. Soon he saw the puma coming carefully along, sniffing his tracks at intervals, and endeavoring to catch a glimpse of him in front. Waiting a favorable moment, he fired from his concealment, and fortunately killed the animal on the spot. It proved to, be a male of the largest size.
The panther frequently conceals itself in a tree, directly over the path of the wapiti. Slowly they come, those timid, graceful creatures, ever and anon stopping to sniff the air, or to catch with ample ears the sound of an enemy's foot. But there is nothing that they can hear or scent, and unconscious of their great peril they pass beneath the limb. Only an instant is needed to gather himself together, and with his natural fierceness increased many-fold by long-continued fasting, the panther descends upon the broad back of his victim. Paralyzed for an instant by the suddenness of the shock, the poor deer staggers beneath the weight of the terrible beast; then fear and the consciousness of imminent danger give it renewed strength, and it bounds through the forest in the wake of its terrified companions, with the cruel rider tearing its tender flesh with both fangs and claws. The contest is soon over, for the deer is a defenseless creature.
The European elk and the American moose, probably members of the same species, differ from the deer in the setting-on of the antlers of the male. I shot a moose in Canada the antlers of which weighed over sixty pounds, with a span of five and a half feet. The buck was an old one, and judging from the antlers they were of ten years' growth.
The height of the elk has been much exaggerated, some writers asserting that the male may stand as much as eight feet at the withers. I believe, however, that it is safe to say that it may attain a height of six feet, or occasionally rather more, and I may probably put the extreme limits as not exceeding six and a half feet. The weight of an average adult male elk is given as 700 lbs.. but large specimens will reach 900 to 1,000, and, it is said, even as much as 1,200 lbs.
Adult male elk, and occasionally the females, have a curious pendulous appendage on the throat formed by a dilatation of the skin, and covered with long and coarse blackish hairs. This appendage may vary in length from four to ten inches, and is known to the American hunters as the bell ; its use is unknown.
The sense of smell in the elk is very acute, and enables it to detect an enemy at a great distance. From the peculiar character of the lip, the animal is enabled to pull down the tender branches of the maple and other trees upon which it feeds. It is so heavy that, when walking on snow, its feet sink through to the ground. The moose has been domesticated and taught to draw sledges and carts. It is not a vicious animal, although dangerous enough when brought to bay. The tongue is much esteemed by epicures. From the great height of the shoulders, above the crupper, its gait is very awkward and clumsy, and, when the animal moves rapidly, the hind legs are thrown very much apart.
In Sweden and Norway elk are either hunted by being driven or stalked. In the autumn of 1885 the elk in the forest of Huneberg, which had been preserved for thirty-five years, were hunted by a royal party, when fifty-one head were shot; and in 1888 upwards of sixty-six were killed in the same forest. In this country there are now three legitimate methods of elk-hunting, namely, stalking or still-hunting, fire-hunting, and calling; the wholesale slaughter of the animals when imprisoned in their yards by the snows of winter having fortunately been prohibited by the legislature. In the far west, the best season for elk-hunting is during the months of October and November; the first snowfalls occurring in the mountains during the latter month, and the males being then incessantly calling or fighting with their fellows. To be successful in elk-stalking requires the aid of an experienced Indian guide, as very few men of European descent can attain that marvellous skill in tracking which appears to come naturally to the Indian.
It appears to be only in the north-eastern districts that the practice of calling with a birch-bark pipe is followed, as the custom is quite unknown in the Rocky Mountains. The Indian, having selected a favorable position for his purpose, generally on the margin of a lake, heath, or bog, where he can readily conceal himself, puts his birchen trumpet to his mouth, and gives the call of the cow moose in a manner so startling and truthful that only the educated ear of an Indian could detect the counterfeit. If the call is successful, presently the responsive bull moose is heard crashing through the forest, uttering his blood-curdling bellow or roar, and rattling his antlers against the trees in challenge to all rivals. In other districts the call of the male is imitated by drawing the shoulder-bone of a moose against the dry bark of a young tree, and any male that may be in the neighborhood advances to answer the challenge of the supposed rival.
"Fire hunting," that is, using a torch at night, is an unsportsmanlike method of hunting. The brilliant light seems to fascinate the animal, and it will readily approach within range of the rifle. The torch placed in the bow of a canoe is also used as a lure on a lake or a river, but is attended with considerable danger, as a wounded or enraged moose will not unfrequently upset the canoe.
A favorite mode of moose-hunting, when the snow lay very deep on the ground, was by running them down in snow-shoes. Accidents were, how-ever, frequent in this kind of hunting, more especially during the spring, when the snow is covered with a thin crust. At such times, ,if the hunter happened incautiously to run too near the moose, the animal would turn suddenly, and leaping upon its pursuer trample him under foot. In British America the Indians during the winter were accustomed in deep snow to make a kind of fence of three poles, tied equidistant from each other, a little taller than a man, stretching perhaps for two days' march between lakes, or a lake and a river, or between two mountains, or in any particular place where the moose were accustomed to pass. Spaces were left vacant here and there in this fence, and in these snares were set, in which the unfortunate animals became entangled.
The flesh of the elk, in spite of some coarseness of grain, is generally regarded as forming excellent venison, although it has a slightly musky taste. The large and fleshy nose is, however, esteemed the greatest delicacy. Elk manage to maintain themselves in fair condition throughout the winter, so that their flesh is eatable when that of the ordinary American deer is so poor and dry as to be unpalatable.
Although specially protected in Ontario, the elk is, however, now rapidly disappearing from the forests of North America; and this is not to be wondered at, when we learn that some years ago several hundreds of these animals were shot on one occasion in New Brunswick merely for the sake of their hides; their carcases being left to rot on the ground. Elk are still comparatively common in Alaska, but have more or less completely disappeared from certain districts where they were formerly abundant. They have entirely ceased their visits to Newfoundland; but in Labrador many still remain, though gradually retreating thence towards the more secluded and inaccessible portions of the country. From Upper Canada all are gone, and but few remain in Lower Canada, where, fifty years since, they were abundant. What are left have retreated to the great dense forests of the north.