Wapiti Wailings

Bull elk wailing. Yellowstone National Park, WY. ©Wil Hershberger 2010Although I don’t get to hear it all that often, one of my favorite sounds is that of our native elk bugling during the fall rut. Wapiti, as it is know to the native Americans, is a formidable creature. Adult elk are avoided by even grizzly bears as those massive antlers can mean terrible injury or even death. Many an unwise tourist has been introduced to the business end of those ivory tines and learned the hard way – keep your distance.

During the fall the elk are in rut. Males wail night and day trying to attract a harem and defend it from other males. Watching one of these beasts bugling instills in the viewer the shear power required to create such a wonderful sound that can be heard for miles. In the still darkness of 3am on September 23, 2010, I was in a large meadow just east of Jackson Lake in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming. The cataract at the dam of Jackson Lake can be heard in the distance as well as great horned owls and the single yelp of a canid – perhaps a wolf. There are several male elk spread out from very close to where I was standing (you can hear him munching on grass) to many hundreds of yards in the distance. The hills in the area reflected the screams, creating a wonderful echo and reverberation.

An ethereal early morning chorus of elk bugling near Oxbow Bend of the Snake River. Grand Tetons National Park, WY. ©Wil Hershberger, 3AM, Sept. 23, 2010.

Even though this is a rather sterile recording composed of just a few species, I really enjoy the sense of space and the feeling of loneliness that can be palpable in these locations. What do you think? I certainly hope that you enjoy this recording as much as I.


  1. This is such an eerie recording, but amazing sounding at the same time. That screamlike sound at 1:48 is the eeriest. Wouldn’t this scare the crap out of you if you heard this and didn’t know what it was? My dad, after hearing this recording said that early explorers might’ve thought these were gods fighting.

  2. Wil, this is wonderful. My first experience seeing and hearing these amazing animals was last September in Yellowstone. I have a video of one of them bugling right beside the road. I’ll never forget the chills that went down my spine at that sound. Just beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  3. My sense is more of aloneness and solitude than of loneliness, but it is keenly juxtaposed against the massive open space and communities of beings who we know are also there, silent, spectral, in those majestic interspersing silent pauses. I think I’d like to go there.

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