A Tale: Teddy Roosevelt Bags an Elk on Two Ocean Pass — 1891

There was no greater supporter of Yellowstone National Park than Theodore Roosevelt. TR was an avid hunter, but he favored prohibition of hunting inside Yellowstone National Park. The idea was that keeping hunters out would make the Park an endless well of trophy animals that could be hunted when they strayed outside its boundaries.

And Roosevelt knew that areas near the park provided marvelous hunting. Here’s his description of one of his kills while on a hunting expedition in 1891 to the Two Ocean Pass, an area just outside Yellowstone’s southern border.


The weather became clear and very cold, so that the snow made the frosty mountains gleam like silver. The moon was full, and in the flood of light the wild scenery round our camp was very beautiful. As always where we camped for several days, we had fixed long tables and settles, and were most comfortable; and when we came in at nightfall, or sometimes long afterward, cold, tired, and hungry, it was sheer physical delight to get warm before the roaring fire of pitchy stumps, and then to feast ravenously on bread and beans, on stewed or roasted elk venison, on grouse and sometimes trout, and flapjacks with maple syrup.

Next morning dawned clear and cold, the sky a glorious blue. Woody and I started to hunt over the great tableland, and led our stout horses up the mountainside, by elk trails so bad that they had to climb like goats. All these elk-trails have one striking peculiarity. They lead through thick timber, but every now and then send off short, well-worn branches to some cliff-edge or jutting crag, commanding a view far and wide over the country beneath. Elk love to stand on these lookout points, and scan the valleys and mountains round about.

Blue grouse rose from beside our path; Clarke’s crows flew past us, with a hollow, flapping sound, or lit in the pine-tops, calling and flirting their tails; the gray-clad whiskyjacks, with multitudinous cries, hopped and fluttered near us. Snow-shoe rabbits scuttled away, the big furry feet which give them their name already turning white. At last we came out on the great plateau, seamed with deep, narrow ravines. Reaches of pasture alternated with groves and open forests of varying size.

Almost immediately we heard the bugle of a bull elk, and saw a big band of cows and calves on the other side of a valley. There were three bulls with them, one very large, and we tried to creep up on them; but the wind was baffling and spoiled our stalk. So we returned to our horses, mounted them, and rode a mile farther, toward a large open wood on a hill-side. When within two hundred yards we heard directly ahead the bugle of a bull, and pulled up short.

In a moment I saw him walking through an open glade; he had not seen us. The slight breeze brought us down his scent. Elk have a strong characteristic smell; it is usually sweet, like that of a herd of Alderney cows; but in old bulls, while rutting, it is rank, pungent, and lasting. We stood motionless till the bull was out of sight, then stole to the wood, tied our horses, and trotted after him. He was travelling fast, occasionally calling; whereupon others in the neighborhood would answer. Evidently he had been driven out of some herd by the master bull.

He went faster than we did, and while we were vainly trying to overtake him we heard another very loud and sonorous challenge to our left. It came from a ridge-crest at the edge of the woods, among some scattered clumps of the northern nut-pine or pinyon—a queer conifer, growing very high on the mountains, its multi-forked trunk and wide-spreading branches giving it the rounded top, and, at a distance, the general look of an oak rather than a pine.

We at once walked toward the ridge, up-wind. In a minute or two, to our chagrin, we stumbled on an outlying spike bull, evidently kept on the outskirts of the herd by the master bull. I thought he would alarm all the rest; but, as we stood motionless, he could not see clearly what we were. He stood, ran, stood again, gazed at us, and trotted slowly off.

We hurried forward as fast as we dared, and with too little care; for we suddenly came in view of two cows. As they raised their heads to look, Woody squatted down where he was, to keep their attention fixed, while I cautiously tried to slip off to one side unobserved. Favored by the neutral tint of my buckskin hunting-shirt, with which my shoes, leggins, and soft hat matched, I succeeded. As soon as I was out of sight I ran hard and came up to a hillock crested with pinyons, behind which I judged I should find the herd.

As I approached the crest, their strong, sweet smell smote my nostrils. In another moment I saw the tips of a pair of mighty antlers, and I peered over the crest with my rifle at the ready. Thirty yards off, behind a clump of pinyons, stood a huge bull, his head thrown back as he rubbed his shoulders with his horns. There were several cows around him, and one saw me immediately, and took alarm. I fired into the bull’s shoulder, inflicting a mortal wound; but he went off, and I raced after him at top speed, firing twice into his flank; then he stopped, very sick, and I broke his neck with a fourth bullet.

The elk I thus slew was a giant. His body was the size of a steer’s, and his antlers, though not unusually long, were very massive and heavy. He lay in a glade, on the edge of a great cliff. Standing on its brink we overlooked a most beautiful country, the home of all homes for the elk: a wilderness of mountains, the immense evergreen forest broken by park and glade, by meadow and pasture, by bare hill-side and barren tableland.


— Excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt “An Elk Hunt at Two Ocean Pass.”  Pages  177-202 in The Wilderness Hunter: An Account of Big Game in the United States.  Putnam’s Sons: New York, 1902.

— Photo from The Wilderness Hunter.

— For other stories about tracking game, click on “Hunting” under the Categories button to the left.

8 thoughts on “A Tale: Teddy Roosevelt Bags an Elk on Two Ocean Pass — 1891

  1. The stories just keep coming. Amazing blog, especially since I like and have always liked Teddy although I suspect he’s such a man’s man I wouldn’t necessarily like him in person.

    • There so much to admire about TR, but like you, I wonder if I’d enjoy his company. He had a huge ego and a lot of bluster about him.

      I’m still finding stories, but I suspect I’ll start using re-runs soon. I posted some good stuff early on that hasn’t generated much attention. Also, I’d like to re-edit several things and revise the introductions.

      I’m thinking of putting together a book based on this blog, perhaps with the title, “Sorter Stories of Greater Yellowstone.” Do you like it?

    • Thanks, Ruffin. I meant to say “Shorter Stories of Greater Yellowstone.” The idea is about 40 vignettes (300- to 1500- words) suitable for reading on the road while traveling between sights, or in the evening around the campfire. I have enough material for a second volume of “Adventures in Yellowstone,” which was a dozen stories 3000- to 12000 words long, but I got the impression at my book singings last summer at Old Faithful Inn that a lot of people would like shorter pieces. What do you think?

      • I think 300 to 1,500 words is probably more accessible for most folks, but I’m a newspaper reporter, so that’s right in the sweet spot of what we’re trained to write. It’s definitely better for putting on your blog and serializing, as that’s a good length for the kind of stuff people like to read while “browsing” online.

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