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Custer in the River September 8, 2013

Custer: Majestic Bull Moose Along the Gros Ventre River

Moose are one of my favorite subjects—especially around the Tetons. I have digital photos of the Gros Ventre moose in my Lightroom Catalog going back to 2005 and had quite a few on film before that. One of my favorite bulls is one I call “Custer”. (Okay, if you don’t like someone naming an animal, just call him #7. Some people will understand the number). I usually try to come up with a name that makes sense to me, even if no one else uses the same name or no name at all. This bull lacks the traditional long dewlap. To my eye, it looked more like a goatee. I tried to come up with historic names of a figure with a goatee. Buffalo Bill came to mind, but that didn’t seem to fit a moose. Custer seemed to fit. Now, after assigning the name with keywords to his photos, I can find just photos of him (more on this at the bottom of the page).

Custer in Velvet September 11, 2011

Custer in Velvet September 11, 2011: I may have photos of Custer that predate the 2011 series, but that was the first year I really started paying attention to him. I have lots of him stripping willows, eating in the sagebrush, resting, sleeping, and interacting with other moose, but for this page, I thought it might be nice to document him with similar shots over the past several years. It’s hard to beat a nice bull moose next to, or in a stream.

Custer Stripping Velvet September 14, 2011

Custer Stripping Velvet September 14, 2011: Catching a bull moose stripping his velvet is not an easy task. The bulk of it can be stripped off in less than an hour, so being there when it happens is a challenge.

Washakie and Custer in November of 2011

Washakie and Custer in November of 2011: This cropped image was taken in mid-November of 2011—after the rut. There’s another image from that day at the bottom of the page. I include this photo to show the relative size of Custer to one of the venerable old bulls in the region. Ironically, I spoke with a tourist who was describing Custer. He had seen him earlier in the day. He told me he was “huge..the biggest bull moose he’d ever seen!”.  That was probably a true statement, but it is balanced with the fact he probably hadn’t seen too many moose. Custer would be no match for Washakie in 2011 as evident in this image. As two bulls approach each other, they swagger and sway, snowing off their antlers to the other bull. This allows them to size up the other bull. The smaller bull usually backs down quickly without a fierce confrontation. Light sparring like this is common after the rut.

Custer in Velvet August 29, 2012

Custer in Velvet August 29, 2012: Antlers grow back in a similar pattern from year to year for each moose, making it fairly easy to identify them. Custer’s lack of a dewlap can give me a clue earlier than some of the other bulls.

Custer Losing Velvet September 3, 2012

Custer Losing Velvet September 3, 2012: I was at the right place at the right time again in 2012. While I have lots of photos of moose in sagebrush, I’d much prefer getting photos of them near the water. I probably have more river crossings of Custer than any other bull moose. There are very few locations along the Gros Ventre where you can include the Grand Teton Range, but otherwise it can be very good shooting.

Custer in Velvet with Spots August 23, 2013

Custer in Velvet August 23, 2013: Notice anything different in 2013? The bottom 2/3’s of his body was covered in white spots. At first, I thought they might be splashes of white mud, but it became clear the white spots were actually white fur. Besides the normal identifying features, Custer was easy to spot.

Custer in the River September 8, 2013

Custer in the River September 8, 2013: I was on my stomach well upstream for this shot, using a telephoto lens. I got “lucky” again that year and was around the same day he stripped his velvet.

Custer Sparring October 31, 2013

Custer Sparring October 31, 2013: Young bulls often spar with each other for years prior to maturing into the top breeders. Custer is seen here sparring with a smaller bull, yet when a larger bull was in the area, he normally backed away from a confrontation.

Custer in Velvet August 28, 2014

Custer in Velvet August 28, 2014: This year, Custer emerged with only half a dozen white spots on his fur on either side. I was curious about him all through the early summer. Would the white spots be more numerous and larger? Apparently, the new coat replaced the previous one and the spots went with it. I can’t say what causes the spots, but I now wonder if he doesn’t bed down in some patch of the valley with the ability to bleach some of his fur? This year, Custer grew a new and distinctive “drop tine” on his right antler, making him even easier to identify.

Custer with Clean Antlers October 11, 2014

Custer with Clean Antlers October 11, 2014: I missed Custer stripping his velvet this year, but I guess I had a pretty good streak going and I can’t complain.

Custer at Evening Rest

Custer at Rest October 22, 2014: Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to witness this bull moose grow into one of the premier bulls along the Gros Ventre. In the early years, he backed away from confrontation, but he now has a “swagger” when other bulls enter his territory. I’ve never seen him fight, but he now has a gash on the left side of his muzzle and a fresh one on the top of his muzzle you can see in this photo. There was blood showing around the edges when I zoomed in tight on an image on my computer. Still, Custer probably needs another year or two to know he is a powerhouse. Other large bulls will have more fighting experience and probably an advantage he can sense. The small gashes he is getting now will give him experience for future battles.

Check out this accompanying Feature Post: Photographing Large Game Animals in Grand Teton National Park: 

Moose Gathering November 13, 2011

Moose Gathering November 13, 2011 : Custer is second to the end on the right.

Gaston and Custer Sparring

The photo above was taken in late October. Custer is now large enough to challenge most of the other large bulls and certainly large enough to keep smaller bulls away from his cows. These two bulls were just sparring and not actually fighting.


Lightroom and Keywords:

Custer Search in Lightroom

At the very beginning of this page, I mentioned how and why I name the moose I photograph. This screen grab is added to let you see how it actually works. The keywords for the right image look something like this: “1-994352512, animal, antlers, bull, copyrighted, Copyrighted Image, Custer, Fall, GTNP, Jackson Hole, mammal, Moose, official, rut, tassels, VAu 1-149-749, VAU001149749, wildlife, willows, WY”. The strings of numbers are something I added during my copyright submissions to the US Copyright Office. Initially, the list looked like this: “animal, antlers, bull, Custer, Fall, GTNP, Jackson Hole, mammal, Moose, rut, tassels, wildlife, willows, WY”. There are lots of ways of adding keywords in Lightroom. I usually add them once I cull the big shoot down to a tolerable level. My images are subdivided into “old school” folder names as seen on the left which allows me to go to just the moose folder and do the search within that folder, or I can search for moose or Custer from the entire catalog. Having a name that correlates with features on the moose helps me identify them in the field and later organize them for searches over the years. For this Feature Post, all I had to do was enter Custer in the Text search field and all of them came up in one single grid view. Out of the 19709 moose images in the catalog, 1900 of them contained the keyword “Custer”.


More Moose Images:

Here’s a list of additional Feature Posts on Best of the Tetons with moose, and even a link to my artistic images as Teton Images. There will be plenty of moose images, including quite a few of Custer on the Daily Updates pages from August to December, too.


Copyrights and Sharing:

Please note that the images on my sites are copyrighted and protected by the US Copyright Office. You are welcome and encouraged to use the Social Media Icons below to share the pages on the site, but please do not take/borrow/steal the images—and absolutely do not use them for any other purpose!


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Comment (1)

  1. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, great images of the Moose. Its the one animal I regret not seeing in Grand Teton National Park. Maybe the next time I am there I will go to that Gros Ventre where they are supposed to be.

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