A couple of Wyoming hunters had a front-row seat to an epic battle during an archery elk hunt in early September. Seth Lee of Casper said he was hunting with a companion around sunrise when two massive bulls began moving toward each other. “We heard them bugling, bugling, bugling, and then ‘wham!’ They started going at it,” Lee told the Cowboy State Daily. “As soon as we heard the crack [of antlers]…we started sneaking in closer.”
The two hunters eventually closed the distance to within just a few yards, and Lee captured some incredible video footage as the fight continued to escalate. With antlers locked, the evenly matched elk charged back and forth, plowing down pine trees and tearing up the turf. Soon, a smaller bull appeared nearby to check out the commotion. A few seconds later, one of the brawling bulls forced its opponent into a near somersault near the hunters. “Take a deep breath,” Lee can be heard saying in the video. “Make sure you put in a good shot.”
But that shot was never released because Lee’s partner—who had a tag for the unit they were hunting that day—was having problems with his bow. According to Lee, the bow had broken sometime earlier, and the replacement that his partner had managed to borrow wasn’t compatible with the arrows he had on hand. So, the two men looked on as the fight ensued for about twenty-five minutes before the elk disappeared over a nearby ridge. Throughout the struggle, the big bulls never picked up on the presence of the hunters, who were hidden behind a tree. “They could have stomped on us and not even known it,” Lee told the Cowboy State Daily.
Read Next: Bulls at 30 Below Zero
While unusual to witness—especially from just a few yards away—intense battles between bull elk are common during the autumn elk rut. Fights like the one on display in this video are part of a broader struggle for mating rights with cow elk. According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, fights tend to be brief, and in rare cases, can prove fatal. In this case, Lee said that these bulls were so evenly matched that neither one walked away victorious, but they both survived the tussle. Ironically, the fight apparently stirred up such a commotion that the large harem of cows they were fighting over ended up spooking and fleeing the area.