By: Dawn Wilson

This week’s featured animal is one in particular, Big Kahuna. This bull elk passed away in early March 2022. He represented a class of his own when it came to a following with photographers and wildlife viewers, but he also seemed to command a level of respect with other elk. He would typically show up in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, his general range during the rut, in late August, stay three to four weeks and then head back to wherever he spent the remainder of the year. And when he arrived, other bull elk gave him space. Here are some facts, observations and estimations about this impressive bull who will live on in the hearts and photographs of many. Please note that all of these pieces of information are not official documentation but rather from my own observations and discussions with other photographers who also spent a lot of time with him in the field.

1. Kahuna was estimated to be at least 12 years old when he died. The average age for Rocky Mountain bull elk is 10 to 13 years in the wild with the prime years being 6 to 9 years of age. Unfortunately, we will never know for sure as his head disappeared the night of March 21. Age in elk is determined by looking at various features of the teeth.

2. This impressive bull elk spent much of the rut season each year in Moraine Park, which is also his final resting place.

3. With a massive rack that counted seven points on each side in two of the last three years of his life, it was the length, mass and spread of the antlers that made him unique. In particular, he had an exceptionally long third tine on each side.

4. I last saw Kahuna alive on March 7. Another photographer saw him alive on March 8. His body was discovered on March 15.

5. Kahuna was so unmistakable that wildlife viewers and photographers gave him several nicknames, including Big Thirds (for that unique long third tine), Bruno and Incredibull.

Dawn Wilson is a professional and award-winning nature photographer who lives in Estes Park year-round. You can see more of her work, join one of her Rocky tours, and purchase prints at DawnWilsonPhotography.com or follow her on Instagram: @dawnwilsonphoto.

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