Every year during the autumn season, elk around YMCA of the Rockies and the village of Estes Park put on a true show during the annual elk rut! What is the elk rut? What is that strange sound they are making and why do the bull elk become so aggressive? We answer all your most frequently asked elk rut questions below. Don’t miss this spectacular event in nature, the fall is a great time to visit the YMCA of the Rockies and Rocky Mountain National Park!
Q: What is the elk rut?
A: Occurring from mid-September through mid-October, the elk rut is a time when male elk are looking to mate with female elk, also known as cows.
Q: What is that noise the male elk are making?
A: Also known as bulls, male elk make very distinct noises during the rut—it’s called bugling! As the male elk’s mating call, the bugle sounds start off as a high-pitched cry before turning to a low groaning noise. Bugling is a way of alerting female elk that a male looking for a mate is nearby, and also offers as a deterrent for other male elk competing for mates.
Q: What is a harem?
A: Elk usually stick to same–sex groups, but during the rut they form groups called harems, which consist of one dominant bull elk and a large group female elk. During this time, the bull elk becomes very aggressive towards challenging male elk and is very protective of his harem. While it may seem like an episode of The Bachelor, its not all fun and games for the bull elk. Since he is so focused on defending his group, he has little time to eat and loses up to 20 percent of his body weight during this time, making surviving the winter very hard.
Q: What else do elk do differently during the rut?
A: While elk are generally mild-mannered animals, their attitudes change during the rut. Male elk become more aggressive towards each other because their goal is to establish dominance and win over a mate during this time of year. It isn’t uncommon to see elk sparring during the rut, meaning they lock antlers with each other and fight over territory and harems.
Q: Where are the best places around YMCA of the Rockies to see elk during the rut?
A: Often, harems of elk can be spotted right on the YMCA property. A favorite location for elk at the YMCA is right in front of the Administration Building in the large, grassy Admin Field. A short walk or drive from the YMCA, both Horseshoe Park and Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park offer exceptional opportunities to see elk during the rut.
Q: How can I be safe while watching the elk rut?
A: As always, watch any wildlife from a great distance. Use a zoom lens on cameras or have binoculars. Especially during the elk rut, bull elk become very aggressive and dangerous to humans observing. Rocky Mountain National Park recommends to stay two bus-lengths away from elk (75ft/23m).