HomeOutdoorsNewsYellowstone issues ‘DANGER’ report for elk calving season

Yellowstone issues ‘DANGER’ report for elk calving season

by Jon D. B.
elk calving season in Yellowstone National Park
An elk calf nurses between cars in the Mammoth administration parking lot. Yellowstone National Park. (Photo credit: NPS media release / Jacob W. Frank)

“Be aware of your surroundings!” Yellowstone National Park declares as elk mothers go into full-on protection mode.

It’s that time of year again, nature lovers. Of course, national parks require all visitors keep their distance from wildlife any time of year. But as spring rolls closer to summer, elk calving season begins in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Elk calves are precious and we love to see them. Mother elk, however, can become intensely aggressive. They can and will lash out at any perceived threat to their adorable offspring. As a dear friend and one of Yellowstone’s most storied rangers, Tara Ross, told me: “I’ve jumped in the back of stranger’s pickup trucks to avoid being trampled by an elk momma.”

The Beauty and Danger of Elk Calving Season as told by Yellowstone Ranger Tara Ross

Once mates have paired off and the deed is done during autumn’s rut, both elk and bison cows will carry their young throughout winter. Then, come springtime, the park sees one of the most incredible calving seasons on the planet.

“May or early June is when we see the babies,” Ranger Tara cited for our National Parks Journal. “It still amazes me every year how maternal animal mammas are with their young. And how dangerous they are with their young around. The danger can be unreal, truly, because of what they will do to protect their babies. There’s no hesitation!”

In fact, Tara considers elk mothers the most dangerous animal in Yellowstone during calving season.

“I’ve had so many encounters with mamma elk. Cow elk can be so aggressive. [They] will see you at a distance and they will come at you and chase after you hard, just to protect their calves that are bedded down somewhere far away from you, even.”

Her scariest incident with an elk mother came as Tara 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,” the Yellowstone ranger of 30 years recalls.

“And they are so big! You know how a Tennessee walking horse has that specific trot? Where they kick their legs up high and slam them down? That’s what the cows look like when they come at you.”

Safety in Elk Calving Season

In kind, Yellowstone National Park asks that visitors heed the following during elk calving season in their May 19 media release to Outsider:

  • Elk calving season has begun in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Cow elk are much more aggressive towards people during the calving season and may run towards you or kick.
  • Stay alert. Look around corners before exiting buildings or walking around blind spots: cow elk may bed their calves near buildings and under cars.
  • Always keep at least 25 yards (23 m) from elk.
  • If an elk runs toward you, find shelter in your vehicle or behind a tall, sturdy barrier as quickly as possible.
  • You are responsible for your own safety.
  • Attacks can be unprovoked and unpredictable.
  • Visit Elk for more information.

For more on the park’s wildlife (and relevant safety), see our Yellowstone National Park Wildlife Breakdown next. Stay safe out there, Outsiders!