HomeOutdoorsElk Rut Fully Underway at Yellowstone National Park, Scaring and Thrilling Visitors

Elk Rut Fully Underway at Yellowstone National Park, Scaring and Thrilling Visitors

by Jon D. B.
(Photo by: Ron Reznick/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As Yellowstone National Park Ranger Tara Ross tells Outsider in our exclusive chat, “I’ve jumped in the back of stranger’s pickup trucks to survive an elk!”

Elk are enormous, as Tara will be the first to tell you. In spring and early summer’s calving season, it’s the elk cows you have to watch out for. They’ll do anything to protect their babies.

“I was jogging before a shift a while back, and here comes a momma elk barreling out of the woods! She was going to get me, Tara recalls.

But as soon as summer begins to wind down, it’s the bull elk you’ve got to watch out for. In Yellowstone (and most of the species’ territory), elk rut peaks in September, then lasts through autumn. It’s a boisterous testosterone fest in which elk bulls duke it out for supremacy – and above all – coveted mates.

Elk rut has become a popular tourist attraction, for lack of a better word, in Yellowstone. The park’s elk put on a particularly egregious display in Mammoth Village, and visitors know it, too. KBZK reports:

The local station reports rangers shouting at visitors over the weekend. Why? Venture a guess.

No matter the size or aggression apparent in wildlife, people cannot seem to get enough – or close enough, rather. Listen, I get it! I’ve dedicated my adult life to conservation through work with zoos and wildlife rescues and here at Outsider. I love wildlife more than anyone! But we’ve got to respect them for what they are: wild.

When we don’t, bad things happen. For both us humans and wild animals.

In the case of elk during rut, however, the risk is far greater for the tourists than these mighty bulls. As they stomp and scrap the ground, thrashing their enormous racks of antlers like sparring warriors, their power is both wildly apparent and paramount. Getting too close to an elk during rut – of either sex – makes a person into a target. And that’s a fight our species simply isn’t built to survive.

Visitors Praise – and Run From – Yellowstone Elk Rut

If viewed safely from a distance, however, elk rut can be a fascinating display.

“It’s really cool. It’s something I’ve never seen anywhere,” park visitor Roger Casas tells KBZK 7.

When the station asks Casas if he’s frightened, he replies: “Kind of, I am actually. You know, um, it’s nice to be scared.”

Smart man! Fear isn’t something to avoid with wildlife. It’s what keeps us alive! As KBZK continues their coverage of the elk rut, one bull, in particular, proves the point.

A massive bull has just torn the solid metal door on the side of an SUV to shreds, shattering the window and rendering it useless. All without trying. The visitors in the vehicle, of course, leave immediately.

Then, another large bull spots a car he doesn’t like. Without hesitation, he lowers his gigantic antlers and charges. He stops seconds from spearing the car.

Elk in rut behave this way towards one another because they see each other as threats; direct competition for mating. Anything else seen as a threat during this timeframe will suffer the same wrath.

“It’s better to be scared,” Roger Casas concludes. “It’s safe to be scared at times like this, you know.”

Spoken like a true Outsider.