While everyone else is gearing up for Halloween in October, Estes Park locals are preparing for “Elktober.” Of course the vibrant fall foliage and golden aspens make a trip to the Rockies quite desirable this time of year; another draw for the town is the annual elk rut and bugling you’ll hear throughout the region.
In October, our elk population begins showing its mating calls and behaviors, some of which include the eerie call and some that include fighting between bulls. It’s the time of year that the cows are searching for a strong bull as their mate and the bulls are well-equipped to show off their bull-like behavior.
At the start of the season, bulls can weight up to 1,100 pounds and the most successful bulls are about eight or nine years old. Bulls will work to attract cows and calves into their harem, some of more than 20 females, and then protect the cows from competing bulls. Outside of the mating season, elk tend to live in same-sex groups with cows and calves in a herd and bulls in bachelor herds. The season can be very hard on a bull, especially if he’s young or past his prime, and many will have lost up to 20% of their body weight at the start of winter from fighting other bulls and neglecting to rest and eat.
Like all of our wildlife, the elk operate on their own schedule so it’s impossible to give you a definitive spot and time for a sighting, but it’s common knowledge around here that your chances are much higher at dawn or dusk for a sighting or bugle. Popular areas to find herds and harems include Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, and Horseshoe Park.
Another great option is with a tour group, like the Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s Elk Expeditions the first few weeks of the month. This is a great way to see the elk and learn more about their mating behaviors.
Want a little preview of the rut and the distinctive bugles? Check out this Minute of Wonder video from Rocky Mountain National Park: