Rocky Mountain National Park’s most beloved and photographed bull elk since the immortal Samson — who was poached by a bowhunter more than 25 years ago — has died.
Known by names such as the Big Kahuna, Bruno and Incredibull, the elk estimated to have lived around 10 years was found dead in the park Sunday by wildlife photographers at Good Bull Outdoors and ACS Nature Photography.
“The King has fallen! Debatably the most photographed bull in the country has laid to rest,” Estes Park resident and ACS Nature Photography owner Andrew Sanders posted on his Instagram account.
Good Bull Outdoors posted on its Facebook page Sunday: “We’re sad to announce the passing of perhaps the most iconic elk in history. … Being the first to place a hand on his magnificent antler (one had already been shed) was humbling and all three of us — myself, Alli and Andrew — were each blessed to be the last to see him alive and the first to see him passed on.”
The post said the photographers last saw the bull weighing around 1,000 pounds on March 7 but then a storm moved in and the photographers lost track of the animal until Sunday. The post said the elk might have been “taken down by a mountain lion with tracks surrounding the area (where) he was found.”
Fort Collins resident Michael Madrid, who owns Michael Madrid Photography and is a senior photo editor for USA TODAY, said he never had a name for the elk but that each time he photographed him, he had the same reaction.
“It was always, ‘Holy cow, look at how massive that guy is,’ ” Madrid said Wednesday.
Madrid said he would usually find and photograph the elk early in the morning in Moraine Park. He said the last time he photographed the animal was 2019.
“His bugle was just thunderous, unlike anything else you heard,” Madrid said. “It moved your soul to hear that intense, soulful sound breaking the quiet.”
The park did not post social media messages on its social platforms about the death and did not respond Wednesday morning via email to an interview request.
Park spokesperson Kyle Patterson told CBS4 the cause of death is unknown and that the animal “could have died from natural causes or been preyed on by a mountain lion.” Photographers noticed the elk had been injured in last fall’s rut, which may have contributed to his death.
Like Big Kahuna, Samson was a well-known and revered large bull elk that was tolerant of people.
He was illegally killed with a crossbow by a Lakewood resident on YMCA of the Rockies grounds near Estes Park in November 1995. His death spawned a national outrage against the poacher, who was sentenced to jail time, fined and placed on probation.
Two years after Samson’s death, he was memorialized with a bronze sculpture that can still be seen at the intersection of U.S. Highway 36 and Colorado Highway 7.
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