Yellowstone National Park Warns Public of ‘Dangerous, Unpredictable Bull Elk’ As Rut Begins

by Jon D. B.
Yellowstone National Park DANGER Elk Bull poster. (Photo credit: NPS, YELL media release)

This year, Yellowstone National Park is warning visitors of the dangers of elk rut season with a new poster that cuts straight to the point.

It’s that time of year again, Outsiders, and it’s no secret just how dangerous bull elk can be during mating season. Known as the rut, mating season for North American wapiti, or elk, comes about each September as summer gives way to fall. Lasting through October, the rut has hormones and tempers raging as bull (male) elk duke it out for mating rights.

Anything – and we mean anything – that gets in their way is treated as a threat during this time. This makes bull elk a considerable danger to humans, as these massive animals sport incredible, spear-tipped antlers atop a 1,000+ pound body.

If you’ll be visiting Yellowstone during the rut, the national park asks that you abide by their 2022 poster, and tips, below:

  • The elk mating season, commonly referred to as the rut, has begun in Yellowstone National Park
    • Bull elk can be unpredictable and dangerous during this time
  • Stay alert! People have been severely injured by elk
    • Elk run quickly and may change direction without warning.
  • Always maintain a distance of at least two bus lengths (25 yards) from elk
  • Give them room, use your zoom: Never approach or pursue animals to take their picture
    • Zoom lenses with focal lengths up to 300 or 400mm offer a great combination of portability and reach
  • If an elk charges you:
    • Quickly find shelter in your vehicle or behind a tall, sturdy barrier.
    • Run away if nearby shelter is not available.
  • Follow directions from park rangers at all times

As Yellowstone National Park’s media release states, you are responsible for your own safety while in the park.

Wildlife safety and abiding by park regulations is imperative during the rut. Past Yellowstone visitors have been severely injured by bull elk, and others have died by elk gorings in the U.S.

As a result, park regulations require that visitors always maintain a distance of at least two bus lengths, or 25 yards (25 meters) away from elk at all times. This includes elk cows, or females.

What to Do if a Yellowstone National Park Elk Approaches You

Abiding by wildlife safety and park regulations does not always mean nature won’t come to you, however. In the event an elk approaches your direction, the park asks that you immediately “Get Away! Retreat to shelter in a building or vehicle, or behind a tall, sturdy barrier as quickly as possible.” If a mature tree is nearby, this will work.

If no shelter is available, the park advises running away from the elk. Leaving a territory they are defending will remove you as a threat. Unlike predators (bears, wolves, coyotes) that will pursue you as prey if you flee, herbivores like elk are less inclined to chase.

Stay safe out there, Outsiders! For more on Yellowstone wildlife safety, see our Yellowstone National Park Wildlife: Animals You’ll Spot, Where to Best View Bison, Bears, Elk, Wolves, and Wildlife Safety next.