Hiking with Dave at Peck Ranch C.A.

March 25, 2015

Dave and I sat on a ridge near a logging road and scanned the valley below for movement. I sat with my back to a white oak, my tripod splayed across my lap and my telephoto herded toward the woods below. It was good to rest for a while—time for a granola bar. A maladroit lunge for my shoulder bag made my tripod slip an inch or two, rustling the dry leaves at my feet. Dave gave me the stink-eye, the natural reflex of a lifelong turkey hunter. But it wasn’t turkeys we were seeking; we were pursuing a much more impressive animal—a wild and free Missouri elk. A minute later, I got another look from Dave and a slight nod over his left shoulder. After a long morning of sitting, watching, hiking, and repeating the process, we had finally found a bull elk in the open and in range for a photograph, or perhaps I should say, an elk had found us!

The Dave in this story is my friend, Dave Mayers. Dave is one of those fellows whom everybody likes—smart, amiable, generous, and above all, a good-listener, a quality that few possess. Dave is also an impressive outdoorsman, even to a person like me, who has spent his life, including 24 years at the Missouri Department of Conservation, surrounded by outdoorsmen. So when Dave called me last fall to ask if I’d like to accompany him to Peck Ranch to photograph an elk, my immediate response was, “Oh yeah!”

We made arrangements to meet on a Saturday morning and I hit the sack early, alarm set for 2:30 a.m. After a long trip south (thanks again Sirius radio) I met Dave at the headquarters well before daylight. He asked me if the rising sun’s position would be critical to my success because he knew of a wooded point in a field where we were likely to make close contact with a large bull, but we would be looking into the sun. Unfortunately, I told him I would rather set up at a less optimal vantage point where we could get some better light on our subject. Dave, a photographer himself, said he totally understood, and guided us to a location he called, “Plan B.”

Minutes later, we were set up in the woods at the other end of the field, sun behind our backs, our eyes trained the wooded point Dave had described earlier as “Plan A.” Although the point was well out of photo range, Dave hoped that even if a big bull emerged at that location, it would turn and head toward our position. After an hour of catching up on old times, all at a whisper, we saw a mature bull crossing the field from our right and heading directly toward the point we were watching. When we realized the beautiful specimen, well out of photo range, was going to enter the woods right where we would have been hiding if we had chosen “Plan A,” Dave turned to me and said, “Man, I wish I hadn’t asked you if light direction mattered.”

After we helplessly watched the bull disappear into the woods, Dave suggested we start bushwhacking up the hill, paralleling the route the bull had taken. He called it “Plan C.” I looked up the hill, immediately noticing the thick undergrowth, including briers and other ne’er-do-well vegetation, threw my ungainly rig over my shoulder and said to my friend, “Sounds great—I’m in.” As we trudged up the hill, occasionally rerouting through the lesser of two brush barriers, I wondered how we would ever get close enough for a shot, but remained confident of my friend and guide. It wasn’t long before Dave’s plan became clear, as he put us within range of the original bull and a second beast. Unfortunately, the brush was so thick, I didn’t even try for a shot. Dave graciously forged onward, not to be discouraged by my finicky standards.

Soon, we were resting on that ridge where I started this story. As I struggled to rotate my rig, and my body, 270° to capture the elk that Dave had discovered spying on us, I knew I had the shot I was looking for. I was delighted to find the huge mammal more interested, than fearful of my awkward movements. Once the shutter clicked, I was instantly relieved that I had not let Dave down; I had held up my part of the deal.

Not one to settle, Dave suggested we continue down the valley for the chance at an even better shot. I nodded in compliance, thinking, “Sounds great—I’m in.”

Thanks for looking,


Note:  Although free and wild in southern Missouri, the elk I photographed for this edition was tagged with a radio collar and ear tag by the Missouri Department of Conservation at release. Research by MDC and the University of Missouri will help managers to re-establish a healthy elk population in our great state.

Email me at:  NatureFrames@Rocketmail.Com



9 comments on “Hiking with Dave at Peck Ranch C.A.”

  1. Isn’t it wonderful to say, “Sounds great-I’m in!”? I have been known to say that also, when I am asked to join you on your expeditions through the hills and fields of Missouri. Glad Dave had multiple plans in place so you could capture this beautiful image of the free roaming, bull elk.

  2. Wonderful composition for that shot. Well worth the bush trampling (easy for me to say)

  3. Excellent photo and I really enjoyed reading about your experience. I was part of a research team that conducted the initial studies of the wild elk herd in PA in the early 1970s, continue to visit the area and an old mentor, and have had many experiences that mirror your post. Thanks for sharing!

  4. What a wonderful word-picture you’ve created. You’re a word-smith as well as an image-smith 😀 Thank you Danny. The only elk i’ve ever seen are in Lone Elk Park.

  5. What a magnificent animal. You managed to capture a beautiful young Bull in your lens. I know that had to make your day. I would love to be able to witness that Elk in the wild, myself.Thank’s for sharing. How long of a drive is it Danny?


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