Elk showdown: Hundreds of huge elk gather at Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge during the rut

Two bull elk, separated by about 30 yards, make eye contact and begin trotting toward each other.

A showdown’s brewing, whispers Bill Berg of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who’s watching the mano-a-mano from a nearby gravel road.

One of the bulls, in a show of bravado, scrapes his antlers on a bush, prompting the other to turn away. Before the heat of the breeding season ends, many more confrontations will occur, but not all of them will end as peacefully.

"They’ll fight until one of them is so worn out he just leaves," Berg says.

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge

KARL PUCKETT Great Falls Tribune

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