Elk rut season is upon us, which means lots of bugling, fights, and aggressive bull elk in the National Parks. In a video courtesy of Jeremy Houston on Instagram, two elk were spotted with their antlers stuck in a headlock. The two big elk butted heads for a moment before separating and moving on. All the while, the females and smaller males continued to mosey along in the background, as if this is just a regular occurrence for these two.
August through October is considered rut season, with the season peaking in late September and early October. During this time, bull elk are much more aggressive as they display for possible mates. This involves loud bugling and locking antlers with other males, like these elk are doing.
So what goes on during rut season? Well, the rut is like the precursor to mating season where the bulls gather females, or cows, into groups called harems before the cows go into estrus and are ready to mate. Usually, young males are cast out of the group by bigger bulls or intolerant cows. But sometimes they actually hang around the harem, slightly confused as to what their role is, according to the Estes Park, Colorado website. Bulls will aggressively guard their harems once they’ve gathered them, leading to fights with other bulls.
Before the harem is formed, bulls will bugle at the females, which indicates the bull’s size. This also warns other males of how big that particular bull is, so they know not to mess with him. Some of the time, a smaller, more daring bull will mess with the big elk anyway. Though fights between bulls are usually violent, but they’re not actually to the death.
Rocky Mountain National Park Closes Meadows During Elk Rut Season
On Sept. 1, Rocky Mountain National Park began its annual meadow closures to ensure the safety of elk and visitors during rut season. The park closed Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, Harbison Meadow, and Holzwarth Meadow to foot and horse traffic from 5 pm to 10 am. The closures last until Oct. 31.
There are about 280,000 elk in all of Colorado, which is the largest elk population in the world. There are plenty of opportunities to stumble onto an elk harem in the park, and so the meadow and trail closures aim to reduce human-elk encounters. Visitors can still witness the animals, but the park recommends staying 75 feet away to ensure safety.
When elk rut is over, and spring comes, there will be more warnings to watch out for elk calves. Cows like to hide their babies in tall grasses or around blind corners for protection. So it’s always important when in National Parks to be aware of your surroundings.