Contributors to this thread:
After getting within 3 yards of grazing cow elk and their calves they winded me and bolted about 75 yards away into thick timber. I could hear a distinct “clicking” sounds that was fast and irregular. They were standing still, clicking back and forth to one another as if communicating or locating one another. I could not make out the origin of the clicking but it was quite audible from 75 yards away. I’ve heard big bulls do this around Yellowstone after being startled and only traveling a short distance before regrouping. It sounded like they were clicking their teeth. I’m sure it was not knuckle clicking as all the animals making these sounds were completely stationary.
Has anyone experienced this? Any long time bow hunters observe this?
You were not imagining it! Elk can click their joints in a manner of communicating to one another, they normally do this when they are in cover where a visual isn't possible of one another. They do not always mew, whine or bugle to send a message. -- Elk will also grind their teeth, this is generally done in a defensive manner towards one another. It's like a dog growling at another dog.
Whitetail deer do it, too. However with deer,it is a vocal clicking and very hard to hear. Old-time hunters use to use a rat-tail comb to mimic the sound.
I believe when I've heard it, it was vocal clicking with the elk, too. Had to be very close to hear it.
Here's a bit more info on the "clicking of their joints" from RMEF.
Ever hear brush cracking in the woods at night and wonder whether it’s elk, wolf, griz or Bigfoot? Elk’s lives depend on those answers and they have evolved a number of ways to determine whether sounds they hear are fellow members of their herd walking and chomping on an innocent veggie meal, or a stalking predator ready to chomp on their neck.
McCullough was the one of the first to document elk knuckle cracking in his 1969 book The Tule Elk: Its History, Behavior and Ecology. Knuckle cracking is much louder and better known among the caribou herds of the arctic, which spend months moving in near or total darkness each winter. Among elk, McCullough likened the sound to the creaking of a leather saddle. Elk utilize this subtle noise in dense cover when visibility is low. Once a herd starts to run, however, the collective cracking joints can be heard from 60 to 80 yards away. But good luck catching them.
You can hear caribou coming from quite a distance. I have witnessed does communicating with fawns by the clicking sound. It is very subtle and you really have to be close.
Eland click very loudly when they walk too, although I can't honestly remember ever hearing it from Elk.
Yep, but the OP heard it when they were completely stationary.
Bowriter, I was once in the middle of a gigantic caribou migration when thousands were passing me on either side at very close range. The sound of the clicking of that many at once was sort of eerie.
Jauomo- Years ago, maybe my first caribou hunt, a complete fog set in and I was sitting at the base of a huge boulder on the Tiaga. I could literally not see three feet. Out of the fog I heard this "blanket" of clicking approaching. I had no idea what it was, never heard of caribou clicking. As it got closer, I actually wished I had a rifle instead of a bow. Suddenly, there were bodies passing me within touching distance and it went on for some minutes. One of the greatest memories of my hunting life. Once, in KY. I shot a big doe with a pair of 6-8 month old twins. The doe went about 40-yards in a tight circle and fell almost at my feet. A few minutes later, one of the fawns approached and back then, I could still hear. That was the first time I heard the vocal clicking. Then, after I got my backyard herd to "sorta" accept me. I heard it again a few times. I believe it is a combination of contact and comfort. I have never heard a buck do it. However, by the time I realized the significance of "the Click", I was just about deaf.
More important than the rarity of the clicking/grinding you heard is you know why they were doing it! (grin) If heard again in cover & you can not visually see into it you now know there's a group of elk there! Great experience!