Displaying items by tag: elk rut

Wednesday, 14 August 2019 13:28

Autumn is Calling: The Yellowstone Elk Rut

Every autumn the high-pitched “errrr-EEEEEEEEEEE-rrrrr” of elk bugles fill the air around northern Yellowstone National Park and southern Montana. This marks the start of the elk “rut” – or mating season – where bulls challenge one another and lock antlers to determine breeding rights with nearby females. And it can be quite the spectacle – drawing onlookers from across the planet.

elk sound clip graphic

Preparing for Battle

Starting in springtime, after they shed their antlers from the previous season, bull elk grow new spikes and tines that branch off them at an incredible rate. At this time the antlers are covered in a soft, blood-vessel-filled covering called velvet, which nourishes the bone underneath. Once fall arrives, and the process is complete, they use trees, rocks, and shrubbery to vigorously rub off the casing and sharpen the points of their antlers in the process. They are then ready to challenge other bulls to do battle using bugles to call in contenders.

BullElkHarem Mammoth NPS

The Challenge

This is where things get interesting; onlookers wait with bated breath to witness bulls lock antlers and push each other back and forth in a test of dominance. However, not every challenge is answered in a battle. Sometimes a young bull commits to more than he’s ready for and is chased off easily by the more mature male. Sometimes two big bulls size each other up and decide to go their separate directions. What remains consistent, though, are the large – seemingly unimpressed – groups of female elk called harems. These female, or cow, elk and their calves nonchalantly chew grass while the bulls, when not battling, jealously guard them and try to keep them in an organized group. Bulls consistently test whether the females are ready to mate using an organ in the roof of their mouths that can detect pheromones.

The spectacle has attracted onlookers since Yellowstone was established as a national park in 1872. Most of the activity now takes place in Mammoth Hot Springs, a National Historic District inside the park that is a mere 15-minute drive from Gardiner, Montana. Here, grass cultivated between buildings attracts the elk and provides easy viewing of bulls and harems.

BullElk Mammoth Autumn NPS

Where to View the Rut

From Gardiner, drive to Mammoth to park your car and safely view the wildlife from a developed area, including from the porch of the Albright Visitor Center. If you’d prefer to seek elk in a more private setting, hire a guide from a local wildlife watching company who can take you to lesser-known regions including outside of the park. You can also inquire into autumn elk hunting opportunities following the rut with one of Gardiner’s local hunting outfitters. The area is well known for hunting with a permit outside the park’s boundaries.

BullElk NorthEntrance Autumn NPS

Please note that elk – really at all times of the year, but especially in the rut – can be extremely dangerous and often attack parked cars and visitors who don’t afford them appropriate space. For more information on staying safe while watching these animals during their mating season, please visit the Yellowstone National Park website and follow all rules and regulations.

Chelsea DeWeese is a guide and writer based in her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Plan Your Elk Rut Adventure

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Other Fall Activities

Published in Gardiner Montana Blog
Tuesday, 20 August 2019 08:54

Seven Reasons to Visit Gardiner in the Fall

Fall in Gardiner, Montana and northern Yellowstone is spectacular—especially if you love wildlife watching, photography, and classic mountain town recreation. Here are just a few reasons to plan a fall adventure to Nature’s Favorite Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The elk rut. Fall in Gardiner and northern Yellowstone means elk mating season is in full swing. You can be at the center of the action and watch the bulls (males) compete for the attention of females. Just be careful—the bulls are easily agitated this time of year so give them plenty of space. Check out this video from Yellowstone National Park if you need some visual proof.

Elk Rut - NPS

Beautiful hiking weather. The Gardiner area is still relatively dry but the daytime highs are cooler, making the weather more comfortable for a day hike. Our favorite hikes this time of year include Knox Lake (Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, inquire at the Gardiner Ranger Station), any of these northern Yellowstone hikes, and Pine Creek Lake. All our favorite spring hiking adventures are great options in autumn as well.

KnoxLake GuerinLoren

Camping. Crisp mornings give way to warm, sparkling autumn days in Gardiner, Montana. We have a campground recommendation for every vehicle type and recreational interest, from just outside town to Yellowstone National Park to Cooke City. Just remember some campgrounds close by late September, so be sure to check with the Forest Service or Park Service before you go.

GardinerAreaCamping GuerinLoren

Scenic drives. Paradise Valley, Jardine Road, Yellowstone’s Northern Range, and the Beartooth Highway all offer spectacular scenic drives filled with alpine scenery, fall color, and opportunities for viewing wildlife—including bears, elk, and moose. 

ParadiseValley Autumn JeanModesette

Yellowstone has fewer crowds. Cooler temperatures mean the thermal features are even steamier than in the warmer months—plus you can view them without the usual summer crowds. Though September is still considered peak season in the park, October and early November are some of our favorite times to enjoy the wonders of Yellowstone National Park at your own pace (and find parking, too!)

Thermal Feature - NPS

Fly fishing. The Yellowstone River runs right through town—and just happens to be a world-class fishing destination. Try your luck in Gardiner, Tom Miner Basin, and the Paradise Valley. Visit the local fly shops to find out what the fish are biting on and where.

YellowstoneRiver ParadiseValley Fall ZondraSkertich

Endless photography opportunities. Wildlife are more active as the ungulates (elk, pronghorn, and deer) head into mating season and bears prepare for hibernation. Grab the big lens and take advantage of premier wildlife watching and photography opportunities. Bonus: If the animals are being elusive, you can always capture the stunning fall colors that surround Gardiner on all sides. Some excellent places to photograph fall foliage include Paradise Valley, the Tom Miner Basin, and Yellowstone’s Northern Range.

Fall Black Bear - NPS

Best of all, many of the shops, restaurants, and comfortable accommodations available during the summer months are still open and ready to serve you. Try delicious local cuisine like elk burgers and huckleberry milkshakes, stay in a comfortable hotel or cozy cabin, and pick up all the supplies and mementos you and your family desire.

We look forward to seeing you in Gardiner this fall, where skies are cobalt blue and the air is filled with the sounds of bugling bull elk!

Photo Credits: Knox Lake; camping image: Loren Barrett/Gardiner Chamber of Commerce. Fall foliage and dirt road: Jean Modesette. Fall foliage in Paradise Valley: Zondra Skertich/Gardiner Chamber of Commerce. All others courtesy of Yellowstone NPS.

Published in Gardiner Montana Blog
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