Bring on the rut!

Battle of the Bulls

The temperatures have dropped and the leaves are starting to show the first signs of changing color. Fall will be here before you know it and that means the rut is on our doorstep.

But what is a rut?

Estes Valley and Colorado are loaded with elk. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, more than 28,000 elk—the largest population of elk in the world—call Colorado home. During the 2013-2014 winter season, when elk counts are collected, an estimated 330 elk lived in Estes Valley. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to another 600-800 elk in the low-elevation valleys during the winter.

During September and October, these hundreds of elk go into their annual mating season. Called the rut, this season marks the peak of the mating activities when bulls gather harems and send out their bellowing calls to warn off other males and to attract elk cows.

Watching the elk during the rut is an amazing opportunity and Estes Valley has many locations ideal for observing this behavior. Several locations are even in town, including any of the open grassy areas. Dusk and dawn are the best times of day to observe the elk in their prime mating season.

But all those hormones raging through a bull that can weigh as much as 1,100 pounds and carries a set of sharp antlers can be a recipe for disaster if you are not careful and respectful of these majestic animals. Here are some tips for safe elk rut viewing:

1. Watch and photograph from a distance. No photo is worth your safety or the safety of the elk. If the elk, particularly a bull, changes his behavior, such as pinning back her ears, staring at you or looking up from feeding, you are too close.

2. Be aware of your surroundings. Bull elk stay very busy during these months corralling their harem and fighting off would-be suitors. They are not going to stop if you get in the way. Keep a safe distance from the herd and be aware of potential animals behind you trying to sneak into the harem.

3. Observe posted signs. There are numerous signs posted along the Lake Estes Trail warning about elk in the area. These signs are not meant to scare you but make you aware of your surroundings. In the case of overly active elk in the area, the trail may be closed. Our golf course staff will warn viewers and golfers of elk on the courses.

4. Keep pets secured on a leash. Elk consider dogs a threat; they look more like a wolf than your cuddly buddy to an elk. Pets are supposed to be on a six-foot leash at all times along the Lake Estes Trail and dogs are not permitted on the golf courses. During rut season, it may be best to find an alternate route to walk your canine workout partner.

5. Back away. If you do encounter an overly assertive elk, back away. Do not turn your back to the bull because you will not know if he is charging you.

6. Making a call. If you encounter an overly eager bull elk that may be a danger to people, move away and call the Estes Park Police Department Dispatch Center at 970-586-4000. They will notify the proper authorities to respond to the situation.

7. Enjoy elk rutting season. Estes Park offers a plethora of wildlife viewing opportunities. Viewing animals safely and responsibly will make a better experience for everyone involved—humans and elk.

For more information about the rut and elk in the Estes Park and Rocky Mountain areas, visit Rocky Mountain National Park and Visit Estes Park.