Elephant Musth

Ivan led us within about 15 yards of the elephant and then judged his ivory too small.

I hunted Botswana with Ivan Carter and Brian and Denise Welker in 2013.

Early in the hunt we came across a lone bull that appeared to have pretty decent ivory. We decided to check him out despite the fact that he was obviously in musth. Musth is the period when reproductive hormones in bull elephants escalate tremendously. Testosterone levels will spike 60 times greater than normal. During this time, fluid surges from the bull’s temporal glands and seminal fluid drips from its penis. Tracking this elephant meant simply watching for wet sand. The smell was unbelievably rank.

Ivan led us within about 15 yards of the elephant and then judged his ivory too small.

Despite the fact that we were only 45 feet from the bull, he never knew we were there. An elephant’s eyesight is terrible, but his hearing and sense of smell is incredible. Playing the wind and keeping quiet are key. We watched the bull for a few minutes before he ambled off to continue feeding. We were still searching for a trophy bull, so Ivan sent our tracker Roy up a tree to scout for more “eleies.”

No sooner had Roy climbed the tree than the wind swirled to give away our location. But rather than flee, the enraged bull turned toward us and charged forward.

Ivan had Brian, Denise, and I slowly back away as the bull thundered forward. Roy wisely stayed in the tree.

When the bull made it to the tree (about 9 yards from us on the ground), Ivan yelled, “Hey ‘ey ‘ey!” and waved his Heym .600 Nitro Express Double Rifle over his head to appear larger. The bull took notice and left in a cloud of dust and ammonia-scented musth.

When I asked Roy if he was scared, he shrugged it off as if the event was no big thing. “My God Roy, weren’t you scared?”

“Naahhh, he didn’t want me.” I guess that Roy’s 30-plus years as a tracker have taught him to read an elephant's intentions.