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A young mule deer buck grazing along NPS Road 5. Click to enlarge photos.
A young mule deer buck grazing along NPS Road 5. Click to enlarge photos.
Tall grass partially hides this mule deer fawn.
Tall grass partially hides this mule deer fawn.
Portrait of a mule deer as a young buck.
Portrait of a mule deer as a young buck.
This lone coyote hunts along the edge of a Wind Cave Park prairie dog town.
This lone coyote hunts along the edge of a Wind Cave Park prairie dog town.
A stately bison bull on a crisp winter morning.
A stately bison bull on a crisp winter morning.
Temperatures in the low teens don't seem to faze the hearty bison.
Temperatures in the low teens don't seem to faze the hearty bison.
A 6 x 7 bull elk moves along a ridge on the park's northwestern edge.
A 6 x 7 bull elk moves along a ridge on the park's northwestern edge.
A brave prairie dog forages along the border of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.
A brave prairie dog forages along the border of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.
This fat fellow was still finding green things to eat in early December near Highland Creek.
This fat fellow was still finding green things to eat in early December near Highland Creek.
Fighting probably broke a couple points off this 6 x 6 bull elk.
Fighting probably broke a couple points off this 6 x 6 bull elk.
A rabbit's best defense is to stay still, blend into the scenery, and hope predators don't notice them. Unfortunately for this fellow, his coat had not turned white yet to match the snow.
A rabbit's best defense is to stay still, blend into the scenery, and hope predators don't notice them. Unfortunately for this fellow, his coat had not turned white yet to match the snow.
The Wind Cave Elks Club convenes atop a ridge near the Centennial Trail.
The Wind Cave Elks Club convenes atop a ridge near the Centennial Trail.
One camera-shy elk wandered off after spotting the photographer.
One camera-shy elk wandered off after spotting the photographer.
Young bison playfully butt heads.
Young bison playfully butt heads.
A bison cow near Highway 87 in Wind Cave Park's southern portion.
A bison cow near Highway 87 in Wind Cave Park's southern portion.

The Elks Club

Jan 7, 2013

 

It was a still sub-zero morning in late February. The year was 2011 and the snow lay thick over the hills and valleys of the southern Black Hills. I was on my way to Montana for a conference and took a detour through one of my favorite places in South Dakota just to see what I could see. As usual, I was not disappointed. As I made a turn on a winding road that ran along a ravine between two sets of low hills, I saw a lone coyote standing still with his head tilted, as if listening for something. Luckily I was downwind and he was hungry so he paid no notice as I pulled over. I grabbed my camera, got out of my vehicle and slowly nestled in as close to the road barrier as possible to watch the show. Mr. Wile E. Coyote proceeded to slowly walk down the hillside, stopping to listen every few steps. After a couple minutes of this, he stopped statue still, cocked his head, and proceeded to pounce into the snow, burying his head up to his shoulders. After five seconds, he pulled out a fat rodent that he firmly held in his jaws. That was when he looked at me, turned away and continued his meal. It was like I was watching PBS’s Nature program in real life.
 

 

The setting was Wind Cave National Park — a place more known for what lies beneath the ground than what is above the ground. I find this quite ironic, as the park’s land is full of scenic beauty and breathtaking wildlife scenes all available from the comfort of your vehicle. For a guy like me that has a love for wildlife but isn’t in the best hiking shape, the place is a “must visit” every time I’m in the area.

Any time of the year offers a good chance to view a variety of creatures from mule deer to American bison and prairie dogs to the coyotes that hunt them. I particularly like to visit the park in the early winter as I’ve had good luck seeing and photographing what I consider one of the more photogenic wild creatures… the mighty wapiti or elk. The park has a fairly large herd of these beasts. They are not always the easiest to find, but I’ve had luck early in the morning along the park’s northern back road in early winter.

Elk are not only beautiful creatures to look at; they are also revered by Native American tribes and hold spiritual significance in their culture. There are legends of Elk Men who are credited with the invention of the flute that, when played correctly, had a magical way of attracting a mate. The elk’s symbolism of love and passion may have been simply derived from what the Plains Indians observed. The courageous and mighty bulls, crowned with a majestic set of antlers, were powerful figures as well as examples of something to emulate — specifically in how they fought for and defended their harems of devoted cows.

Late in the fall, you may be able to observe this fighting and defending between bull elks along Wind Cave’s Rankin Ridge. If you are lucky, you may also hear the bulls bugle. It is a sound that is unmistakable as well as impressive. I have yet to see or hear this at Wind Cave, but I did witness it at Yellowstone in the fall of 2010. It was one of those moments of nature that sticks with you. It is both the real and potential experiences like this that makes Wind Cave National Park’s aboveground features just as important and impressive as what lies beneath. Just don’t forget your camera!

 

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog


Comments

04:07 pm - Mon, January 7 2013
dave tunge said:
Great photos Christian............what's your favorite wildlife lens?
04:23 pm - Mon, January 7 2013
Christian said:
Thanks Dave. I use the Canon 100-400mm almost exclusively. When there is enough light, I'll usually add a 1.4 extender as well. This doubles my lowest f-stop and renders the lens to all manual focus, but the extra throw (580mm) I get is pretty nice to have at the ready.
12:29 pm - Wed, January 9 2013
Laura said:
I love that big fat prairie dog with his little green snack. I'm having a hard time remembering the above-ground portion of Wind Cave National Park, so clearly I'm overdue for a visit. Thanks, Christian!

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