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What is the elk rut?

Bull elk bugling

Fall is a special time in Estes Park with cooler temperatures, gorgeous fall foliage, and the distant bugles of bull (male) elk! The bugling, a bellow with a grunt or a high-pitched call at the end, is used by the bulls to attract cows, or female elk, into their harem or to warn other bulls that they’re ready to fight. Other sounds you might hear from elk include a bark from a cow to warn others in her group of danger, a mew or chirp to communicate with the herd, and a squeal or bleat from calves to their mothers.

The most common sound in the fall is the bugling as elk prepare for mating season or “the rut.” During the rut, the elk begin moving to lower elevations to find mates or join a harem. Cows choose their mates by watching the bulls display their antlers and overall physical condition, and bigger is better in this case. Most of the bulls are about six years old or so when they successfully create harems. Younger male yearlings will try their best to compete or simply (and wisely) try to stay with their current herd. Mature bulls do occasionally fight by locking their antlers together and pushing against each other – this is called sparring.

Elk sparring

After the rut is over, males regroup with other bachelors and cows return to their own groups. Both will then start to eat as much as they can in preparation of the winter and scarce food sources.

Fun facts about elk

  • Elk have a lifespan of eight to 12 years
  • 4 – 5 ft. in height at the shoulder
  • Elk, both cows and bulls, can weigh anywhere from 325 to over 1,000 lbs.
  • Known as wapiti to many Native American tribes
  • Bulls lose their antlers in March but start growing them back again in May for mating season and their antlers are solid bone by September
  • Antlers can weigh up to 40 lbs. and can be more than four ft. in length
  • A calf can stand by the time it’s 20-minutes old
  • Bulls live in bachelor groups or by themselves and cows live in herds with the calves

Elk herd

Celebrate the rut with fun and educational events during Elk Fest, September 30 – October 1, 2017! The festival also has live music, shopping, and Native American dancing and storytelling. This event is very family-friendly and unique to Estes Park.

Looking for a cabin in Estes Park for the elk rut or just to enjoy a fall getaway to the Rocky Mountains? View our cabins and vacation condos to find the right one for your getaway!

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