Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.


Friday, September 26, 2014

The Rut: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Andy Williams wasn’t crooning about the rut when he released his hit Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” way back in October of 1963. (At least, we don’t think he was.) For elk hunters, it’s a hands-down, slam dunk, no-doubt-about-it no brainer. The rut is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.

As August draws to a close and the calendar page flips into September, the days shorten; temperatures cool and snow starts to fall in the high country. It’s mating season. Elk begin moving to lower elevations. Bulls wallow in mud to coat themselves with urine “perfume” to attract cows. They bugle and rub trees, shrubs and the ground with their antlers to attract cows and intimidate others bulls. Mature bulls stake their claims to harems by moving in among a group of cows and calves. Sometimes, they wage violent battles for a harem, even fighting to the death on occasion. The harems remain a scene of constant action from September through October, and sometimes through November.



Hunters head to the forests and mountains to see and hear the action. Bulls let out bugles, haunting screams that are among the more beautiful in all of nature. The bugle advertises their presence and fitness to both females and other males. They bugle to lure in cows. They also bugle to announce or accept a challenge from another bull. It is their most vocal time of the year, and a time of the year when a hunter can often get the closest to the herd because of all the commotion.








For wildlife viewers, the scene is just as mesmerizing but for those not familiar with elk and their mating habits, it can be downright dangerous. Aggressive bulls take out their frustrations on cars, trucks and people who just don’t seem to recognize or understand that the animals are indeed wild. Below is just one example of what happens every summer in Estes Park, Colorado—a haven for elk and for tourists who get dangerously close.


As the rut begins, media reports from Yellowstone Park to Canada to the Smokies issue warnings to visitors to keep their distance. 

So if you’re viewing elk from inside a car or truck from afar or chasing them up-close with a bow or rifle, be careful and enjoy. It certainly is the most wonderful time of the year.


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