Elk Herds in Saskatchewan: the story behind "In Motion"

Updated: Jan 12


It was cold, not like the uncomfortable but tolerable kind of cold. It was the kind of cold that freezes your lungs, makes you consider bending to the will of hypothermia, questioning why you're outside in -31C weather with a parka laid over another 5 articles of clothing totalling more than you spent on your first car. But that's not all, you also get to experience the gentle but painfully breeze as the wind blows the ice crystals in the air to pierce your skin like needles and burn your cheeks.


And then you hear it. A sweet calf mewing behind you.


This is the story of "In Motion". A panoramic marking the end of the most incredible experience of my life.

It was late November when a close friend and I were chasing whitetails, hoping to stock the freezer (without freezing to death ourselves). It had been a brutally cold weekend, temperatures often dipping below -30C overnight and into the mornings. The weekend had been fairly quiet, some animals moving but nothing like we hoped.


Over some Saturday night sour cream pie, the neighbour tipped us off to an area he'd seen a buck regularly in the mornings. We decided to give it a try not holding out much hope as the temperatures continued to drop.


I woke up with a severe headache, the result of a poplar smoke allergy which is a challenging thing to manage in a cabin warmed by a wood stove fueled by the local white poplars. But being sick has only prevented me from going out a few times, and with my friend relying on me to show her the area, I toughed it out and got up.

It had snowed about 10 inches overnight on top of at least a foot of snow. The Jeep was naturally camouflaged by the fresh stuff so we got it as close as we could to the area we were looking at. It was a tough walk, to say the least. Between the deep snow and the wind blowing in our faces, it was exhausting., but we also had to remember not to sweat - there's nothing more dangerous than this in cold weather.


We finally found a good vantage point and started our wait.


We could hear something moving in the trees, but it never appeared to us. And as the sun rose behind us, we were losing hope and all of our patience.


Then, just as we considered packing it in, we were the sweetest sound; an elk calf mew, almost like a kitten, right behind us.

We slowly turned to see a young calf, looking behind for its mother. Then another, then a heard of cows and calves, then... bugles.


Little did we know, elk had been moving around us for the better part of our morning out there. This was only evident once we saw the tracks over our own, crisscrossing across the pasture. We got up the hill a bit and were treated to the most stunning scenes we have ever seen. Elk herds moved around us, young and old, bulls bugled and cows moaned. There was rarely silence, however, their hooves made no sound, looking like a muted movie scene as they raced through the new snow.

Their breath puffed up like smoke around them, they swirled the ice crystals in the air that now looked like glitter rather than needles. And we watched for what we estimated to be about an hour. Suddenly we weren't cold, and I forgot for a moment that my head was pounding now that my heart was racing.

I must have repeated "this is incredible" a hundred times. It truly was. The cold made it so much beautiful than it ever could have been on a tolerable day and it stands as a reminder of the trials and tribulations we must suffer through to experience true beauty.

This is why we suffer. So that we can experience some of the most spectacular moments of our lives. To be more intimate with the wild than we ever imagined.


An Important Note

As a wildlife photographer and a hunter, I have been privileged to experience nature in a way I never could have dreamed, and I wouldn't be the former without the latter.


Hunting is so much more than the pursuit of a trophy or of sustenance and it takes time to understand the opportunities for growth that can happen when your goal is to become something you weren't born to be. To be silent, to attempt to blend with nature instead of just observing it.


I have heard the wolves, felt the energy of the rut, smelled the rutting moose, and watched the last breaths of a deer turn to mist and disappear. It's emotional at all times and painful in some. But I could never let it go from my life. After all, there's no way I would have experienced this day without it (nor would we get sour cream pie).

“A downed animal is most certainly the object of a hunting trip, but it becomes an anticlimax when compared to the many other pleasures of the hunt.” - Fred Bear

Until next time,

Emily

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