By: Steve Butera
(WBIR-Great Smoky Mountains National Park) James York's recent trip to the North Carolina side of the Smokies has now been seen by more than 290,000 viewers, and counting.
You can thank a watchful eye and YouTube for that.
"I was waiting in line with other photographers who set up along side the road," York said Thursday, "Designated for where people would be to be safe."
While he was shooting still pictures at the Cataloochee Trail in the Smokies in October, a bull elk, York estimated was 500 pounds, walked through the public area, and toward the man.
York stayed still, protecting his head and sitting down as the animal head butted him.
"He just kind of looked up at me," York added. "I just paused and waited for him to move on, but he decided to take more interest in me."
The seven-minute plus encounter was captured by Vince Camiolo, who held the footage for weeks before posting it to YouTube on Tuesday.
"Definitely got pretty nervous for the photographer -- pretty quickly," Camiolo told 10News via Skype. "I was following the lead of the other photographers who were there because I thought they were experienced, maybe this was common?"
Park rangers told 10News that by the looks of the video, York did nearly everything correct. He did not approach the animal, and did not interact with it by touch him. However, they said York should've walked slowly away immediately when the bull came up to him.
He said at the time, he did not know what to do.
"Because I'm standing up, I couldn't be able to protect myself as easily as I could, down on the ground by curling up into a ball," York said.
He was still able to get some photos during the run in with the wild animal. He said while there are skeptics who would've said he should have not taken the photos that close, he said he was still within his rights to do just that.
"For people to say I was in his space, I was sitting on the road," he said. "The rangers go up and down to make sure people are where they're supposed to be."
Neither the elk nor York were hurt.
Biologists said elk normally mate during the September to October time-frame, and may have thought York was competition for a lady-elk.
For more information on elk at the Smokies, the National Park Service website has information on mannerisms and how to interact with them.