We received a series of photos and the story of a unique bull elk taken in Montana by Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation member Ed Coyle. The story, in his words, is below.
After an early morning unproductive hunt, hunting private land that I manage outside of Ennis, Montana, my partner I was hunting with had never been to an area of public land adjacent to the property. Being a beautiful spot, and thinking our hunt was over, I suggested we go on sort of a sightseeing hike up to the saddle. When we got to the saddle, we heard this bull bugling not far from us. We went right in that direction and the wind was howling right in our face.
I got what I thought was a pretty good look at him as he was feeding from right to left and still bugling every few minutes at 8:30 A.M. He looked like a really nice 6-point in the 300 class and I felt it was definitely a bull worth pursuing. I set up behind a dead snag with a small white bark pine to my right, and my partner was about 50 yards behind me. I bugled and he started coming. He stopped about 50 yards in front of me, and I couldn’t see him very well, but I could tell he was just ripping up the ground with his antlers and bugling his head off. He was pissed! My partner gave a few cow calls and I’ll be damned if he didn’t pick his head up and start coming. Luckily he came to my right side of the snag. He continued past the live white bark pine where I was able to draw, and he walked right by me. I noticed something not right with his brow tines but I was trying not to mess it all up and concentrate on his front leg and shoulder. I let an arrow fly at 15 yards and he ran off until I cow called and he stopped broadside at 60 yards and stood there. I thought he would drop, but he turned and walked downhill out of sight.
Long story short, we were sitting on the blood trail when a large grey wolf ran right through us, right down the trail like a damn shark! Then another, and another. My bow was way off to my left so all I could think of was to cow call so maybe my partner could get a shot. The big black one stopped at 20 yards and stared at us with its yellow eyes until the movement of reaching for the pistol scared him off.
Ed’s Partner glassing his bull
Anyway, we quickly followed the blood trail and we came upon those wolves messing with the bull I had just stuck with an arrow. I shouted and they ran off uphill, and the bull side hilled off to the ridge top and bedded down. We could watch him and it seemed like he was gonna die, until he stood up and went out of sight.
Devastated, I felt like I needed to make a move, so we hiked way up and over and came down on him since the wind was coming up hill at this point. Luckily he didn’t go far, just out of sight from our last vantage point. I peeked around the rock outcrop and he stared at me so I let an arrow fly. WHACK. He didn’t even budge or blink. Just kept staring at me. I thought I’d better get another one in him if I could so I peeked around again and WHACK. This time he gets up and took off like a freight train and runs off down the steep rocky terrain. All we hear is crashing.
We didn’t even follow blood, just muddy tracks and he was piled up about 100 yards away. That’s when I saw his third antler for the first time.
We asked RMEF Director of Science and Planning Tom Toman how a bull could look like this. Here is Tom’s response:
Typically antler shape, mass and differences can be attributed to one of two causes, genetics or injury. Injury can result in a broken skull and if it heals sometimes the base is in a slightly or in some cases an exaggerated position. This can cause the antler to grow in a different direction. In some cases, injury to the body can have an effect on antler growth and it is often on the antler on the opposite side of the body from the injury. In this case, my best guess would be that the third antler was the result of genes. I do not think an injury would result in growing an additional antler. Three antlered elk are not common but not as rare as you think either. Just one of Mother Nature’s curiosities!Tom Toman, RMEF Director of Science & Planning