Bull elk are notoriously ornery this time of year, but it’s not often that a testosterone-fueled male unleashes the full force of its antlers on an unsuspecting female. That’s exactly what happened, however, in a series of photographs shot by wildlife photographer Joe Subolefsky and recently shared by the Nature is Metal Instagram account. See the shocking photos in the short video clip below.
Subolefsky took the pictures in North Carolina’s Cattalooche Valley back in 2021. “Photographing elk again this morning,” he’s heard saying in the video, which he recorded right after the incident took place. “We tell people to get back all the time, and here’s the reason.”
Subolefsky, who’s currently photographing elk in Pennsylvania, tells Field & Stream that the bull had been sparring with another male just before it killed the cow. “When he got done with that fight, he walked over towards her, tried to mount her, and she just stumbled,” he recalls. “She wasn’t expecting it, and she wasn’t very receptive. He was so charged up coming out of that fight that, and he just gored her.”
Subolefsky believes that one of the bull’s tines punctured the cow’s heart, killing her in short order with minimal suffering. “She went right over here and died,” he said, panning his camera over to the collared and tagged cow elk in the grass. “Sad to see. Part of nature. Would have happened wether we were here or not.”
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North Carolina’s Cattaloochee Valley sits near the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park Service reintroduced 52 elk to the area in 2001 and 2002 with help from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Those elk were transplanted from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area of southwestern Kentucky and northwest Tennessee. Today, the Cataloochee valley herd is more than 200 elk strong.
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