“I was coming back from work and saw a field where there are normally cows,” he said. “Then I saw an alpha male elk with big antlers.
“I quickly got into my house, grabbed my camera and came back.”
Stonnell, who is from Camano Island, went on to film a video of hundreds of elk crossing a road in the Painted Hills subdivision just east of Bozeman.
“It’s only five minutes away from campus,” he said.
After capturing footage of the elk crossing, Stonnell uploaded it to the Internet.
“I originally had put it on Facebook and it actually got 15 likes,” said Stonnell. “I thought, ‘Oh hey, might as well put it on YouTube.’”
He uploaded the video, his first on YouTube, on March 27.
A little more than a week later, his video, “Massive herd of elk in Montana,” had over 1.3 million views.
“For me just a few views would have been great,” Stonnell said. “When I hit the 10,000 mark I was thrilled. That would have been enough for me.”
It didn’t stop there.
“It’s been seen in France, India and in the British Isles,” said Stonnell’s grandmother, Jackie Stonnell. “We just can’t believe that it has gone viral.”
The 3-minute video shows elk leaping a fence and crossing the road, blocking it completely. The last little elk to cross is unable to get over the fence and becomes tangled in the wire several times, becoming separated from the herd, before finally clearing the fence and joining the other elk.
Austin Stonnell said the herd is typically visible from his house and he never imagined that his video would be watched by so many.
“I was very surprised,” Stonnell said. “I mean, it’s a video about elk.”
Stonnell said many of the comments under the video concerned the elk that failed to cross the fence on its first try and questioned why he didn’t help it.
“I tried thinking of a way to help it but there’s not much you can do,” Stonnell said. “I didn’t want to get clobbered.”
The 19-year-old is living in Bozeman to gain residency so that he can pursue a degree in chemical engineering at Montana State University. Stonnell already has a degree in photography.
Stonnell said he has plans to make more videos as time goes on. “I made a second video because the elk came back,” he said. “I will probably film some outdoor camping stuff in the future.”
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