During the September-October mating season, bull elk stage their own passion play of sorts. The characteristic rutting call of bulls can be heard from just before dusk to dawn.
In the early evening head into Rocky Mountain National Park and stop at Horseshoe Park where local volunteer guides, the Bugle Corp, are on hand to give interpretive information.
Prime elk viewing areas on the East Side of Rocky Mountain National Park:
Prime elk viewing areas on the West Side of Rocky Mountain National Park:
Prime elk viewing areas in Estes Park:
The typical bugle of the bull elk is a surprising, distinctive sound that begins deep and resonant, and becomes a high pitched squeal before ending in a succession of grunts.
As you stand in Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park or Upper Beaver Meadows you may hear one or more bulls bugling and you'll notice the variations. The sounds overlap and reverberate against the rock outcroppings and hills.
The experience will astound you. You will be reminded that you are standing on sacred ground — where the first peoples of America stood and the same echoes of nature filled the autumn, night air.
You may be fortunate enough to see an 1100 pound bull elk rounding up his harem in one of the National Park's montane meadows, or in town on golf courses and lawns.
Bulls have various levels of experience in herding. Some are studs and others are wannabes. Prime bulls are eight to nine years old and clearly in command. There may be other competitors nearby, but they can't compete with the mature bull's display of antlers and his bellowing bugle. This swashbuckler gathers and cloisters his cows with apparent ease.
Often, one or two other bulls stand on the sidelines, watching with obvious frustration. Even those who have managed to corner a cow or two watch helplessly as their prospects evade them and run toward a growing assembly of cows, yearlings and calves which have gathered near another bull. You may also notice a bull with broken antlers or half a rack — the result of competitive battles between bulls..
Wildlife Watching Etiquette
Elk gather in the open meadows and are easily visible when left undisturbed. During the elk rut, please do not venture into the park's meadows between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. and stay on roadways and designated trails. Look for postings alerting you to areas that have been closed. You can easily sight and watch them from the roadsides.
Please remember that wildlife are the natives in this area and that we are the visitors! Wildlife are very keen on "personal space." In other words, they're happier if you keep your distance. (When your ride a bus or subway, how do you feel about strangers crowding into your space?) Bring your binoculars or telephoto lens to get a close-up view of these majestic creatures. If your presence causes the elk to move away, then you are too close. Within the park, you may be cited for harassment of wildlife if your actions affect the behavior of an animal in any way.
As soon as you park, turn off your car lights and engine. Shut car doors quietly and speak softly. Don't use headlights or flashlights to illuminate or entice wildlife.
Enjoy your not-too-close encounter with our native elk!
North American elk (wapiti) were plentiful in the Rocky area. Remnants of the prehistoric game drive systems are still observable in the Park. Euro-American settlers hunted elk intensively until 1890 when few or none were left.
In 1913 and 1914 49 elk from Yellowstone National Park were brought to this area. Predators (the gray wolf and the grizzly bear) were eliminated and Rocky's elk population recovered.
In the winter, most Park elk migrate to lower elevations in neighboring towns and National Forests (where they are hunted). Hunting has not kept the herd small enough so the Park has embarked on a project to manage the herd via birth control and sharpshooters. For more info read articles in the press and download the Park's report. Culling is expected to be scheduled early in the mornings on winter weekdays.