Yellowstone’s Number 6—reigning monarch of the Mammoth elk dating scene—died this week at age fifteen as the result of a freak accident.
His 725 pound body (impressive by elk standards) was found in Gardiner, Montana just outside the north entrance of Yellowstone. Authorities believe he suffocated after tripping over a fence and pinning himself between some rocks.
Number 6 distinguished himself from the herd with his curmudgeonly character and apparent fearlessness. He was known to charge automobiles without hesitation, and the trophy of a car tail light dangled from his antlers one day last fall. Visitors foolish enough to disobey the park’s regulations of keeping a 25-yard boundary soon found themselves confronted with the dangerous reality of a cranky, 700+ pound bull elk. Dedicated park rangers and volunteers patrolled Mammoth during the rut in an effort to keep both the visitors and Number 6 out of trouble.
Like a small town eccentric that everybody loves despite the inconvenience and even the slight danger he poses, Number 6 was much beloved in Mammoth by park employees. With his bravado and confident swagger, he ruled the elk rut in Mammoth, his closest rival being the younger (and less flamboyant) Number 10.
From our office windows this past fall, my co-workers and I followed Number 6’s exploits as he bugled and sparred with Number 10. I often felt like a voyeur, spying on the poor fellas while they competed for each other’s harem—the ungulate version of ‘The Bachelor.’ When I spoke with business associates on the phone, the question would inevitably arise about the loud noise in the background; they always expressed disbelief when I revealed it to be a bugling elk. And in the fall, Number 6 often extended my workday because of his wandering near the office exit and blocking access to my car.
Being new to the park, I experienced my first elk rut last year, and I looked forward to following the infamous adventures of Number 6 for many years to come. Bull elk are plentiful in Yellowstone, but few can match Number 6’s singular, ornery character. Number 10 has some rather large shoes (or hooves) to fill next year.
Number 6: I hope in the elk afterlife the rut season is endless, the cows are plentiful, and the wolves scarce.
Number Six's Filmography: Scenes from the Yellowstone Elk Rut