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100 Days To Die

By L. Scot Jenkins, Shed Hunter Paul Jenkins
ID, Elk Antler Sheds

The rut was winding down and the old bull elk had faithfully performed his duty. He had responded to nature’s primal urges and worked tirelessly throughout September into October, maintaining his herd of cow elk. He was indomitable in his determination to ensure that each fertile female would pass on his genetics through calves to be born the following spring.

“Herculean” does not begin to adequately describe the energy he expended in defending his cows from rivals and completing the breeding process. His efforts had become increasingly more difficult with the ever-growing population of wolves in his domain. He had reduced his bugling activity to attract less attention. His cows were stressed by the constant presence of wolves, and they often avoided grazing in preferred habitat to avoid proximity to danger. Sleep patterns were disrupted and traditional movements, breeding activities, and seasonal migrations were altered. Yes, life for his kind had truly become more difficult in recent times, yet he still remained vigilant in defending his harem into October, lest one of his yet-to-be-bred cows might become receptive. That was the fateful moment his adversary issued the definitive challenge.

The younger 6-point bull was fully mature, but he had become frustrated this season by his failure to assemble and maintain his own herd of cows. He fought with other rivals in vain during the second half of September and now, in October with the rut waning, his frustration had reached fever pitch. The old bull and his adversary screamed challenges at each other and postured regally, but the fight was unavoidable. The two Titans slammed antlers together, and at first neither realized that their magnificent headgear had become inextricably locked. They pushed and twisted with all their amazing strength, yet neither could gain advantage. After hours of struggling, both were totally exhausted and they stood motionless, gasping for breath. Eventually the younger bull could stand no longer and he lay down. The old bull had recovered somewhat and chose that moment to renew his attack on his adversary, but neither could prevail, nor could they separate. They both lay down exhausted, yet rest did not provide comfort while awkwardly attached to the enemy. Day became night, and the next day they fought again and tried to separate without success. The nights and days became an endless torture of being unable to feed or sleep successfully. Fortunately, the wolves were elsewhere and did not find the two bulls in their vulnerable and helpless situation. However, the magpies, ravens, and coyotes noticed their predicament and were ever-present.

As the tortured weeks slipped by, the coyotes' persistent assaults had their effect and the younger bull’s strength faded until he eventually died. The smell of death attracted scavengers who fed on the dead bull, giving the surviving older bull no periods of rest during days (birds) or nights (coyotes). The stench of his adversary’s decomposing body was nearly overwhelming! Eventually, the old bull found that the weight of his enemy’s body had been reduced to the point where his remaining strength could be used to lift the skeletal remains of his deceased enemy. He could actually travel short distances carrying the decreasing load, although movement drained precious energy from his already depleted reserves. He was instinctively aware that wintering at higher elevations would be fatal, so he abandoned his territory overlooking Idaho’s Palisades Reservoir region in the distance and traveled to milder habitat below. He knew of a relatively safe haven along the South Fork of the Snake River. He was also aware that wolves seldom frequented this lower elevation winter range due to proximity to human activity.

January came, and he could now feed awkwardly while carrying the antlers, skull, and neck vertebrae of his adversary. However, the old bull's strength continued to wane due to low quality winter nutrition and the energy sapped by carrying his extra burden. Uncomfortable and poor quality rest periods also took their toll. If only he could survive until April when his antlers would drop off naturally and mercifully free him of his lethal load. One day in late January he heard a strange sound as his image was captured by a camera.

Alas, his survival from this excruciating ordeal was not meant to be. The endless stress of his tribulation and the relentless attacks by coyotes eventually wore him down. The mighty old bull’s months-long struggle ended with his death in the snow along the banks of the South Fork.

March arrived, and outdoorsman and antler shed hunter Paul Jenkins could no longer tolerate being bottled up by winter in his Idaho Falls home. Paul and his friend, Kris Maddock, struck out on March 16, 2014 to stretch their legs and search for deer antler sheds and hopefully find some early elk antler sheds. Paul made the discovery-of-a-lifetime when he spotted the locked up pair of dead bulls. The two men had their work cut out for them separating the old bull’s remains and hauling the heavy load out to Paul’s truck. Mountain bikes helped greatly in transporting their extraordinary cargo.

Nature is indeed brutal at times, but these two bulls will remain locked together forever. Their story will be revisited with reverence as observers witness the outcome and reflect on their somber yet epic destiny. Neither bull knew when they clashed their antlers together that fateful day in October 2013 that each was doomed with roughly “100 days to die!"

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