The First Bull Elk I Ever Shot in North Carolina

The First Bull Elk I Ever Shot in North Carolina

It's a sound that changes you forever. 

From the earliest Native Americans, to frontiersman like Teddy Roosevelt, to the modern day bowhunter, screaming 6x6 bulls have been rattling hunter's cages for centuries. Their bugle sounds almost surreal, even prehistoric, and yet as foreign as it may seem to man, it also resonates deeply within us. It's wild. Untamed. Just hearing the sound of a bugle takes your heart and your mind to a place far away, to a western canyon rim at sunset or an early morning fog settling in a high mountain valley. 

As a wildlife artist born in the Midwest, living in the southeast and painting from all over North America (someday the world), I create opportunities to spend time with the wild animals I paint. It's important to watch, photograph, sketch and study them on their turf. So I recently took a trip to the Appalachian Mountains to photograph a wild herd of about 140 elk. Yes, that's right, the Appalachians. Through passionate sportsmen, dedicated state agencies and the effort of groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, elk have been successfully reintroduced into the Appalachians and are thriving. 

Everyone, hunters and non-hunters alike, are enthralled by these animals up close. And as a bowhunter, it was a great experience to get within 50 yards and just enjoy them, watching and observing how they interact with each other and with their environment. Without an arrow knocked and bow in hand, no adrenaline flowing, no mind racing, and no calculating how to get a shot off, you can relax and enjoy elk in a way that's almost as thrilling as hunting them. Instead of hearing your own heartbeat in your ears, you hear the more subtle sounds of cows chewing, tines ticking off tree branches, and the soft grunts and bugles that bulls seem to let out subconsciously as they lose themselves in the heat of the rut.

It was a great experience. The kind that not only lights the creative fire for new painting ideas, but also reminds me that the pursuit of wildlife runs so much deeper than putting one on the wall. It's a passion and a lifestyle that is rooted deep within our soul. How do I know? Listen to that bugle echo through the Appalachian valley again, then check out a few photos from the trip below and see if you're thoughts don't wander to higher ground, to a rugged, remote place far away.

I'll be painting from these images soon and hope you'll follow the creative process on Facebook and Instagram. And if you're lucky enough to be chasing bugling bulls for yourself right now, be sure to share your adventures with the world by using the hashtag:

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