Flat Creek Mart

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Elk Rut

It’s September, which means it’s a magical time of year. The verdant blanket of summer shuffles aside just enough for fall to poke its rosy head out for a few tentative moments and signal its imminent arrival. Also, it’s time for some elk lovin’.

An elk bugling during elk rut.

Photo by Thomas Torget

We at Flat Creek Inn know you’re secretly very curious about what goes on during elk rut, so we’re doing the responsible thing and answering all of your questions.

First, what exactly is elk rut?

Elk rut is the name of the season between late August and the middle of October, where the elk come out to mate. It’s like eHarmony for large North American ungulates, except with more high-pitched honking sounds. The bulls show off their genetic superiority in the hopes that a female will pick them to pass those genes to the next generation. Each male has the potential to attract multiple cows, which he will keep in his harem. 

What’s up with that sound they make?

The aforementioned high-pitched sound a bull elk makes is called a bugle, because that sounds more dignified and nature-y than “third-grader playing the recorder.” It starts low, rises to a high whistle, and then falls to a hollow grunt. The lady elk can’t get enough of it. Watch it below or hear it here.

Elk bugling during elk rut

Photo by Thomas Torget

What else do the bulls do to attract the cows?

During the rut, the bulls flaunt their antlers: the bigger and more symmetrical, the better. These hormone-crazed bull elk also soak themselves in urine to advertise their readiness to mate (which, incidentally, is where humans got the idea for Axe Body Spray). They will also dig out cool places to lounge in marshy grass, smashing small trees to bits in their quest to build the perfect bachelor pad. 

Tell us about the fights!

Bull elk, all hopped up on testosterone and a single-minded determination to strut their stuff, will often engage in one-on-one fights with other bull elk. Usually, the defeated male, deprived of love, just retreats into the trees to sulk and maybe write hateful YouTube comments. Sometimes, however, elk are injured or even killed—they can weigh up to a thousand pounds, after all.

What about the females?

Once a cow is in heat, the bull approaches slowly, holding his antlers high and flicking his tongue in what he surely imagines is a seductive manner. If she’s ready to mate, she’ll let him get close. 

What happens afterward?

After breeding season, a cow has about eight and a half months until she gives birth to a calf. That puts the baby’s birthday around the peak of spring, when the new grass growth will give them the best chance at a summer full of growth. 

Still curious about elk breeding season? We don’t judge. Come stay at Flat Creek Inn, right across the street from the Grand Teton Elk Refuge. 

 

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