If it’s September in Estes Park, chances are visitors will witness the “rutting” or mating of elk in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. They’ll also hear the distinctive song that accompanies it.
Commonly known as bugling, the sound resonates throughout the town and indicates that fall’s cooler temperatures are well on their way. It’s the primary way male elk call to females for the seasonal mating ritual.
Visitor numbers increase during this time and well into October, as people come to witness a dominant bull round up his harem of females. Estes Park lodging fills up quickly through the fall, so it’s wise to make reservations as soon as possible.
The types of bugles vary in sound, pitch and length. It simply means that members of the herds are communicating with each other. As with many animal species, bulls fight amongst each other for the right to gather the harem and mate. Males who aren’t in the alpha position hang around the herd, but they are essentially rejected.
Of course, getting too close to these massive creatures—the bulls grow to an average of 720 pounds, five feet at the shoulder and eight feet in length—isn’t advised. They are heard quite well from most Estes Park vacation rentals. Some may even come into town in more open spaces such as the municipal golf course. Since the elk tend to make these calls in the early morning hours, they make an effective woodsy alarm clock.
To watch the elk safely, stay at least a few hundred yards away from the herd and refrain from moving closer. Bring binoculars if you want to get a better view. While taking photographs or videos, attach your telephoto lens and place it on a tripod for better exposure and focus.
Elk attacks on humans are extremely rare, but they do happen. Unlike bears, they will not attack and bite, but they can ram or stampede if they feel threatened. Here’s what to do if an elk turns aggressive: Back away while still keeping your eyes on the animal. Become “large” by raising your arms or waving a jacket over your head. Curl into a fetal position on the ground.
Members of the Elk Bugle Corps are on hand to answer questions about the rut. These trained volunteers fan out around the park and are happy to inform visitors about elk. They also serve as traffic monitors for the greater numbers of cars that enter Rocky Mountain, so they definitely appreciate visitors’ cooperation.
Photo courtesy of rockymountainnationalpark.com
Thanks to our sources: National Park Service, Estes Park News, Wikipedia, Croft Communications, www.estes-park.com
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