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Wildlife Photographer Finds Himself Head to Head with Young Elk, Escapes Unscathed

By Anthony Thurston on November 13th 2013

As a weekend wildlife photographer I love to try and get as close to the animals as I safely can. It is easy to forget that these animals are wild and have a mind of their own. Even when taking necessary steps to keep a safe distance you can still be in harms way. Just ask this photographer who had a really unique run in with young bull elk recently.

The man was able to get away without being hurt, other than a sore head – but as you can see in the video the danger was very present. While watching this there were several times where I found myself expecting to see this photographer get stabbed with one of those spiked antlers. Luckily, that never came.

[REWIND: Epic Wildlife Battles: Deer vs Eagle]

This would be a good time to talk about how to safely handle a situation like this if it were to ever happened to you. The photographer in question here handled the situation perfectly, he stayed passive and did not try to get up to get away. Had he done that it would risk the Elk changing from a curious and playful attitude to a scared and defensive one – which could lead to him being trampled, stabbed or worse.

Quick Wildlife safety tips

  • Use long telephoto lenses so you can get close without having to be close. The bigger the animal the farther away from it you should be.
  • If an animal approaches you stay where you are, move slowly, and do not interact with it other than to protect yourself.
  • Keep a wildlife spray on you, like bear spray for example, so if you need to defend yourself you have the means to do so. These things may not stop an attack but they can give you time to try and get away.

photogvsyoungelk1 photogvsyoungelk2

[via PetaPixel]

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Elk vs Photographer Update: Elk Put down After Altercation With Photographer

    […] our attention that the young bull elk involved in the altercation with a wildlife photographer that we posted about several days ago has been put down by park […]

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  2. Ludo

    This is absolutely RIDICULOUS in many ways!!!
    1 – no-one is moving their finger to help the guy in a potentially dangerous situation,
    2 – there is an elk park near where I live and if Elks become too familiar with humans it makes them too dangerous to people and children so they get killed by rangers.

    This video does not help the photographer and definitely not the animal, because even if the elk was playing at the end of the day he might get shot because it was too familiar.
    It sad to read so many imbecile comments on this post.

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    • MIchael

      This man is a idiot. Sitting, that’s right sitting on the side of the road provoking, yes provoking the elk so that he can get some good shots. Just so everybody knows that elk was latter shot by rangers that same day. people need to learn not to interact with wildlife it can only turn out bad and it is the wildlife that usually suffer

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  3. kyla

    also, for those looking for his “super awesome” shots, you can find them here: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/james-york.html

    wonder if it was worth it

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  4. kyla

    it really grosses me out that this dude continued taking pics even in this really dangerous situation. put your damn camera down and get out. are you happy that you led to this animal being killed just so you could get “the shot”? also, the way that elk took off when that car came at it… how sad is it that all those people in their cars just sat there watching it go down without doing ANYTHING to help him?

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  5. Kristy Herron

    This was taken not far from where I live. We always have people here that think they can get close to wildlife to get photos. I’m sure it happens everywhere else as well. It amazes me how stupid some people can be. This elk has since been euthanized because they said it was no longer scared of humans & “aggressively hazing” it didn’t work. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/19/youtube-elk-euthanized-/3637603/

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  6. Stephanie

    Where’s the link to this man’s photos? Man, talk about dangling the carrot!!

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  7. Chad McKinney

    That animal is too familiar with humans. The elk should be scared of us and not “playing” with the photographer. Well handled by the photog and his buddy in the vehicle.

    Elk aren’t nice little animals he could have easily been put in the hospital. Good job on the retreat and equipment recovery.

    And I agree the footage was great. You can tell the videographer/photog had their tripod. No hand held shaky video in portrait mode from an iPhone. <–Drives me nuts when my family members video in portrait!

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  8. rebecca lynne lewis

    Shame look how scared the animal was every time he made big movements!!! i think the photographer knew he was fairly safe and could chase off the animal if need be, but he was so perseverant for those shots haha

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  9. PJ

    I had been told awhile back that wild animals can perceive a camera as an eye that is staring them, which they can take as a challenge. I never knew if it was true or not, but was always cautious not to keep my camera up if an animal were looking at me. If you watch this video every time the animal backs away and the photographer raises his camera for more shots, the elk comes back at him. This video has only enforced that belief me.

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  10. Kristin Smetona

    i’m sorry, but why is no one helping this man get out of a potentially dangerous situation???? The guy taking the video seems to be VERY stable. Is he on a tripod? I’m sorry, but this is crazy! No one helped this man or tried to fend of the dear. Where is the park ranger? So many questions…

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    • Brad

      Really, you shouldn’t rely on anyone else to protect you from anything, especially the government’s agents… This should be understood by now. I strongly recommend carrying a gun in your camera bags. They are very useful tools in many situations. Like Dave said, would have been some great meals there, even with a small bull like that one.

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    • rebecca lynne lewis

      a gun Brad? These poor animals, they wouldnt even be in contact with humans if we photographers dont go following them around for some shots, stay at a safe distance, buy a zoom lens, dont go so far as to kill an animal just for the sake of a few good photos!!!

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    • Jerry Gowins

      The man who should have helped “this man get out of a potentially dangerous situation” was himself. He was very foolish (and I’m being nice here) to just sit there so he could get images looking up the elk’s nostrils. All he had to do was stand up and walk away. It’s obvious that he didn’t want to. I’d call him a Darwin Award candidate. As an aside, the rangers had to put this elk down a couple of days later because of his aggressiveness. That idiot sitting there letting the elk head butt him is partially to blame for putting up with it!

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  11. Hal Hagy

    Lucky man, stupid man.

    I have taken photos of elk during the rut and the bulls are very cranky and females with young calves are not to be messed with. There is NO safe distance unless you are in a hide which has been accepted by the herd, or in a vehicle. They are large, fast and dangerous.

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  12. Jessica

    I want to see the shots he got!

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  13. Jan

    I love that this guy was chimping. Lol. A potentially deadly situation though and although the elk wasn’t being aggressive it could easily have killed him in play.

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  14. Angelia

    I’d love to see that man’s photos as well! And the person filming the elk as he “played” with the photographer … those were some good shots at the end, too. :)

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  15. Mississauga Photography

    I love wildlife photography and always forget to learn safety tips. Thanks to share great wildlife safety tips to all photographers.

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  16. Jodie

    I want to see this mans photos!

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    • Kristy Herron

      You can google J. K. York Photography (I added “of elk”) he had them posted on redbubble.com but when I clicked the link it gave me an error message.

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  17. D. Boomsma

    If this was potentially dangerous for the man, why didn’t anyone drive closer for the Elk to go away?

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  18. Dave

    That Elk would have been my lunch and dinner for weeks to come.

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  19. Anje

    The elk was playing with the photographer, that’s why he didn’t hurt him. Animals can be very gentle when they play, I see it all the time in animal rescue. An amazing video, and he did do the right thing in not challenging the elk. It really looked like the elk wanted his hat more than anything else but he didn’t want to hurt him for it or he would have.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      You are completely right. I was not trying to make it sound like the elk was attacking him, but wild animals are unpredictable. The elk easily could have gone from playful to not so playful and this guy could have been seriously injured. Caution when in a situation like this is all I was trying to convey.

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  20. Black Z Eddie

    Wow. Amazing he didn’t get gored. Great footage. Whoever was filming had some pretty quality gear.

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  21. Jaron Walker

    Elk just wanted the RAW files for its portfolio.

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