A Tale: Photographer Tangles with an Elk — Seton, 1913

When the Army took over administration of Yellowstone Park in 1886, they stopped all hunting and began sealing guns at the border. Soon Nimrods began fulfilling their hunting urges by stalking big game with cameras. 

The famous naturalist-writer, Ernest Thompson Seton, told this story about his friend, John Fossum, who was once a soldier in Yellowstone Park. Seton described it as an adventure on a “heroic scale.”


A friend of mine, John Fossum, while out on a camera hunt in early winter, descried afar a large bull Elk lying asleep in an open valley. At once Fossum made a plan. He saw that he could crawl up to the bull, snap him where he lay, then later secure a second picture as the creature ran for the timber.

The first part of the program was carried out admirably. Fossum got within fifty feet and still the Elk lay sleeping. Then the camera was opened out. But alas! that little pesky “click,” that does so much mischief, awoke the bull, who at once sprang to his feet and ran—not for the woods—but for the man.

Fossum with the most amazing nerve stood there quietly focussing his camera, till the bull was within ten feet, then pressed the button, threw the camera into the soft snow and ran for his life with the bull at his coat-tails.

It would have been a short run but for the fact that they reached a deep snowdrift that would carry the man, and would not carry the Elk. Here Fossum escaped, while the bull snorted around, telling just what he meant to do to the man when he caught him; but he was not to be caught, and at last the bull went off grumbling and squealing.

The hunter came back, recovered his camera, and when the plate was developed it bore the picture.

It shows plainly the fighting light in the bull’s eye, the back laid ears, the twisting of the nose, and the rate at which he is coming is evidenced in the stamping feet and the wind-blown whiskers, and yet in spite of the peril of the moment, and the fact that this was a hand camera, there is no sign of shake on landscape or on Elk, and the picture is actually over-exposed.


— Ernest Thompson Seton, Wild Animals at Home, Grosset and Dunlap: New York, 1913.  Pp. 71-72.

— Photo by John Fossum from Seton’s book.

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