I was hesitant to write this post. My hope is that people can learn from my mistakes just as much as from the positive experiences.
I set off at 6:30am to avoid the predicted high temps. The early start brought me to a coyote sauntering along the logging road.
As I descended a switchback I recognized the clomping of elk in a hurry. Four cow elk burst across the road not 30 yards from me. Three disappeared around the corner but the fourth posed at the turn.
I moved forward to get the branches out of the shot and the elk hurried off. Just as she did so, three calves jumped out and followed her! Behind them a fourth calf struggled to its feet and wobbled in place as if it were still getting used to its legs.
The calf staggered onto the road, alternately looking at me and then back towards where its herd had disappeared. It let out a chirpy bleat, paused, then moved into the road and chirped again.
I had put myself in an uncomfortable spot. I knew better than to get too close to young calves. You risk stressing the little ones and pissing off a mama. But now I had a young elk calf 20 yards away calling for a cow elk that I could no longer see.
I backed away. The calf walked towards me and bleated again, now within 15 yards and giving off an “are you my mommy?” intent. Branches snapped in the forest to my left. I kept backing up and the calf stepped forward and called again.
And then its mother let out a response call. From behind me.
My heart pumped double as I spun to see her entering the road 20 yards back. For a moment I was directly between cow and calf. Then she bolted back into the forest.
I switched plans and moved upslope directly away from the cows. The calf continued walking towards me and calling. From about 10 yards away I took one last picture of the confused little baby.
The calf stopped following. Soon there were trees between us and it was out of sight. I proceeded on and not 10 minutes later spotted a doe and fawn on the road, this time giving them their space from a distance. On my way back I heard the elk deeper in the forest.
The interaction had a bit of magic, but I intruded further into the lives of fresh mothers and their vulnerable youngsters than I want to be. I also put myself into a bit more danger than I should have. Next time I’ll stop at the beginning – when I see babies that young, the pictures aren’t that important. Take one from a distance and then give them their peace.