Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
It is a great experience to witness a real bull fight. The truth is you don't see them nearly as often as you see just sparring. The difference is dramatic, both visually and sound can be amazing. When the big boys clash, you can hear the antlers clatter for a couple of hundred yards. You can feel the difference. The great power of a huge bull elk is evident when they go for broke.
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Notes to Entry:
These pictures, except the first, are from my best elk fight shooting day in 2008.
Real Bull Fights vs. Sparring
Here's the difference between sparring and true bull fighting in words and pictures. First I will discuss sparring.

Sparring is common. It is a kind of casual affair and kind of antler slapping and mild pushing. Sometimes they actually seem bored and killing time. There are no cows on the line. It's like exercise. See the image to the right of sparring bulls. While it is true that they are locked up, there is little visible strain. Notice that their legs are not driving, and their necks are not straining. They are playing around.

Another clue is that these bulls are not quite large enough yet. They are 5x5s or so. I would guess they are a year away from being big enough. Alpha bull status is a matter of size and strength, and it ties in pretty well with age, and in turn, the size of the antlers. Another year and these guys will be heavier and probably 6x6s, a pretty standard bull.

Now for real fighting. A huge difference between sparring and fighting besides the size of the animal size is what happens leading up to a fight. A fight is a process.

Competing bull elk will begin to scream at one another. If you have heard bugling, this is different. It is more urgent, louder, and they will start an emotional buildup to rage. The bugling gets hoarse and kind of gravelly sounding. Once you hear this you will never forget. It is also quite clear that the two bulls are screaming at each other. Pretty exciting stuff.

The second picture is of a bull keeping watch over his cows. He had about 20 pinned pooled around him and most were between him and a fence. He used 43 as a boundary and was defending in front. Note how intent he is. Off picture there are satellite bulls looking for an opening. Nearby, another huge bull is ready to challenge.

The third picture is of a skirmish. Two big bulls are sizing each other up. This is a challenge, but it is still not clear that there will be a fight. Often, during this skirmishing process, the challenger will just decide he is out gunned, and will retreat. If not, the fight is on, and we move to the next stage.

The next picture is of the bulls facing off. They have gone through the preliminary steps of sizing each other up and the decision has been made. They are faced off at about 5 yards or so, and pawing the ground. They also tilt their antlers back and forth from side to side until they decide to attack and lock up. This attack is done from a full charge,and the antlers crash. The battle is now on.

The next two photos are during a fight. Notice how different the body angles are from sparring bulls. There is real leverage. Elk fights are as much about wrestling as anything else. This is a contest of strength, not really about poking holes in the opponent. They tend to stay locked up and the body contortions are all about power. From time to time, they will unlock and relock, but it is all about leverage.

In the second to last photo, one of the the bull elk has pulled free and will reset. Note the leg drive and raw power. He was losing his leverage.

In the very last photo, the battle is over. The loser flees and the bull has defended his harem. This is the life of a dominant bull during the rut. They are tested constantly by satellite bulls hanging around the outside of his herd.

Note that although the alpha bull won a tough fight, while he was fighting, some of the satellite bulls took his cows.

This particular series of true fight pictures were taken on the same day in 2008. At one time I had 3 bull fights going on in front of me, and at least 14 satellite bulls were challenging the alpha bull. It was so exciting it was hard to shoot. I would estimate this rare morning involved 150 animals in all. It was one day out of 35 visits to the valley during the rut.

As you can see, this was a typical foggy Boxley morning. It literally was in the place known as Boxley, the field in front of the intersection of Highways 21 and 43. This is one of the best elk viewing spots in the valley. (see map)

Perhaps you might be as fortunate as I was to see this. I appreciate the opportunity I have to see these natural spectacles. I hope this blog will give you a shot at a similar experience. You will never forget it and you will want to repeat the experience.
Sparring Bulls
Big Bull Elk Surveys Threats
Bull Elk Skirmishing Before Fight
Bull Elk Preparing to Battle
Fighting Bull Elk in Boxley Valley
Bull Elk Pulls Back to Reset The Fight
Loser Bull Elk Flees Fight