Elk Bull Rutting Behaviors

More Elk Rutting Season

Elk Mating Season

Elk mating season or the Rutting Season takes place every fall, prompted by shorter day lengths. Males (bulls) breed with a number of females (cows) during this time, and exhibit a few fascinating behaviors. I was disappointed to miss the rut this year, but it peaked my curiosity. What elk behaviors did you observe? Here are a few interesting examples.

Elk Bulls Fighting and/or Sparring

Bull elk fighting behavior during the fall rut happens daily. Elk Bull's hormones are highest at this time when bulls engage in battles for dominance to mate with the cows. Elk bull battles can be incredible, with the sound of their antlers crashing together and so much force/weight behind each warrior.

Vocalizing - Bugling and Calls

Elk bull vocalizations during the rut are mainly known as bugles and chuckles. Elk Bulls bugle to attract cows, assert dominance, warn other bulls to stay away from his harem/cows, as well as to challenge other bulls to fight. Elk bulls will also perform vocalizations of chuckles, chirps, barks and grunts for various reasons of communication.

Elk Bulls Putting Vegetation on their Antlers

Yes, Elk Bulls actually do this on purpose! Elk bulls dig their antlers through bushes and shrubs get this look as it is believed to make them appear larger and more attractive to females. Bulls will also scrape up vegetation from the ground in a similar manner. This vegetation placement is also considered a way to assert their dominance to both males and females.

Elk Bulls Wallowing in Mud

Elk bulls wallow in mud to cover themselves with urine and surrounding smells to attract cows during the rutting season.

Raking and Rubbing Trees

Elk Bulls scrape or rub trees initially to remove velvet from their antlers just before the Elk Rut. As the Rutting season progresses, Elk Bulls will continue to rub their antlers on trees to spread scent, appeal to nearby cows, show dominance, and strengthen or "exercise" their neck muscles for the battles that will soon come. As Elk Bulls continue to rub their antlers on vegetation and themselves, the white/bone color will change to darker brown hues.. mahogany and/or tan. When the Elk Rut is in full swing, this scraping/rubbing becomes more aggressive and often brings challengers together.

Shedding Antlers

Larger Elk Bulls shed their antlers first, which gives them a jump on antler growth for the next rutting season. Elk bull antlers are usually shed from March(largest bulls) up to May or June for small bulls.

Elk Bull Scrapes

Scrapes made by elk bulls are when they drag their hooves on the ground and pee in it. Bulls do this in an attempt to communicate to other elk that this is their area. The hoof dragging is done with front legs at an outward angle away from the front of the elk. Scrapes are often made near areas where bulls will bed down.

Flehmen Response

The flehmen response behavior allows animals to detect scents. These scents may be from urine of other members of their species or even clues to the presence of prey. In the flehmen response behavior, elk bulls will draw back their lips, particularly the upper lip which curls towards the nostrils. This exposes their vomeronasal organ (located in their palate) that is used to detect estrus in cow urine during the rut, which in turn lets the bulls know when it's time to go courting/mate.

Dominant Bulls During this Past Elk Rut

The most Dominant Bulls during this past Elk Rut are true Titans with superior genetics. Their Size, Stamina, Knowledge and Experience have all been Proven. We were very lucky to be able to observe them during this past year's epic Elk Rut and look forward to seeing All these Titans at full throttle again very soon!


Elk Rut on Video

Elk Rut Behavior - Herding and Courting

While Dominant Elk Bull's display will attracts cows, bulls will also herd females to try to keep them from escaping to a rival Bull. The more a Big Bull works and advertises his dominance, the less likely cows will leave him.

Elk bulls will continue to charm females in their harems with bugling and displays, but it is the cows that will size up the bulls in the area and decide who looks most attractive. Cows do not want to be harassed by younger bulls that constantly chase down unattached females, so a big dominant herd bull that keeps younger bulls at a distance gives cows the peace they want to keep feeding for the winter ahead.

A Big Herd Bull will cut off cows that have ventured too far away, rushing at her with an aggressive display. The herd Bull will also use a similar technique to move the harem to safety, to an area to bed down, or simply away from another competitive bull.

When cows comes into heat, a herd bull performs courting behavior that is different from his herding behavior. The herd bull will now approach cows slowly and carefully, with antlers high and tongue flicking, doing everything he can to win her over. If a cow is not ready to mate, she will move away with her head low, weaving her neck side to side and the bull will stop his immediate courting. Cows will accept and tolerate the herd bull’s behavior when they are ready.


Elk Rut on Video

Elk Rut Behavior - Courting

Here are the most magnificent Elk Bulls courting during the Elk Rut. When Elk cows comes into estrus, a herd bull performs courting behavior that is different from his herding behavior. The herd bull will approach cows slowly and carefully, with antlers high and tongue flicking, doing everything he can to win her over. If a cow is not ready to mate, she will move away with her head low, weaving her neck side to side and the bull will stop his immediate courting. Cows will tolerate and accept the herd bull’s behavior when they are ready.


Elk Rut on Video

Elk Rut Action at it's Peak

A high ratio of Big Elk Bulls to Cows in a tight area of Nature at the height of the Elk Rut. Elk Bulls came out of everywhere in this short period, and the dynamics were amazing to witness. The Sheriff still had no problem asserting his dominance among all these incredible Bulls, but there were many successes between other Bulls and Cows as well. A lot of energy expenditure on the formation and protection of small herds, both along and in Athabasca River. These couple days were not only filled with fighting, bugling, herding and mating, but also some elk rut behaviors not previously witnessed. We left all the original sound in which offers listening to the intensity of all that we could see, but also that we could only hear. Much of this elk rut footage includes hand held digital zoom at dusk.. thank you for your patience with that.


Elk Rut on Video

Magnificent Elk Bull at His Biggest Early in the Rut

The most magnificent Elk Bull we have witnessed in nature, the "Sheriff" looks his best here early in the rutting season. Whether herding cows, battling other elk bulls, or chasing bears up trees, this huge Elk Bull has a commanding presence that has dominated for many years. He will be shedding very soon in preparation for another upcoming Rutting Season this Fall. The Sheriff has educated so many and done so much for Wildlife. We Tip our Hats to You Big Fella!


Elk Rut on Video

First Elk Bull to Form Herd in the Elk Rut

The first big Elk Bull to form a herd with his cows and calves is already very active early in the Elk Rut. Sorry for the camera tilt at times.


Elk Rut on Video

Bull Behaviors with His Harem During the Elk Rut

Here is one of several successful Bulls in the Canadian Rockies during this year's Elk Rut the last few weeks, displaying..
- Vocalizations,
- Rubbing antlers against trees, shrubs and the ground to impress cows, show dominance, and mark a territory,
- Licking, Sniffing and tasting,
- Flehmen or lip curls,
and Herding his Harem.


Elk Rut on Video

Elk Bulls Bugling During the Rut

Magnificent Elk Bulls bugling during the rutting season in Canada's Rockies.


Elk Rut on Video

Magnificent Elk Bull During the Rut and Today

This Elk Bull has moved up in the Rut Season rankings as a force to be reckoned with for over 5 years now. Standing out in a crowd, his incredible genetics will soon be seen everywhere. He has been one of the earliest Bulls to form harems the last few years and now asserts himself over quite a large range.. coming into the Sheriff's territory for much of this past Rut. Here are some not previously shared moments of him during the Elk Rut as well as some peaceful moments of Him today, looking great.


Elk Rut on Video

Magnificent Elk Bull Herding His Cows During the Rut

One of the Most Magnificent Bulls during this year's Elk Rut. Here he is herding cows in the Sheriff's territory(Dominant Elk Bull). This Bull had several bouts with the Sheriff this year, but still wasn't shy about bugling, chuckling and herding while remaining in the same area.


Elk Rut on Video

Elk Rut with Lots of Bugling and Aggressive Bull Guarding his Canadian Rockies Harem

The early stages of the Elk Rut in Canada's Rockies - Jasper National Park. These Video Clips are fractions of several days of a Wonderful experience. This particular Bull Elk has aggressively defended His harem from Several other Bulls over the last few days, of which is still quite early for the Elk Rutting Season.


Elk Rut on Video

Very Active Elk Bull with His Harem During the Elk Rut

A Magnificent Elk Bull being very active during the Rut in the Canadian Rockies. This Elk rut video is part 2 of 2 of this Bull and his harem as aggression and herding instincts are very high.


Elk Rut on Video

Elk Bull Bugles, Scrapes and Looks over Our Mountain Town on a Nice Evening During the Rut

Elk Bulls like this have an important role in making sure there are new calves next Spring. While larger, more dominant Bulls are resting or not attending cows during the rut, satellite bulls may move in to mate with these cows. Bugling can be heard in just about every direction at the peak of the rut with most being nice Bulls like this. This elk bull demonstrates rutting season behaviors as he looks over our beautiful small mountain town.


Elk Rut on Video

Why Do Elk Rub Trees During the Elk Rut?

Here is the "Sheriff".. this areas biggest Elk Bull, working on a tree today. You can see he could easily uproot it. Elk Bulls scrape or rub trees initially to remove velvet from their antlers just before the Elk Rut. As the Rutting season progresses, Elk Bulls will continue to rub their antlers on trees to spread scent, appeal to nearby cows, show dominance, and strengthen or "exercise" their neck muscles for the battles that will soon come. As Elk Bulls continue to rub their antlers on vegetation and themselves, the white/bone color will change to darker brown hues.. mahogany and/or tan. When the Elk Rut is in full swing, this scraping/rubbing becomes more aggressive and often brings challengers together.


Elk Rut on Video

Biggest Elk Bull Exhausted after Battle at the End of the Rut

The Sheriff shows how exhausted he is at the end of the Rut. He endured so many battles during this rutting season and his competition was fierce. All who knew him were a little worried about the Big Old Fella seen here as he retreated to rest with a leaking eye and faint bugles.


Elk Rut on Video

Elk - Wapiti Rutting Season

The Elk Rut Season


The Active Elk Rut Season Time and Duration

The elk rut season is from late August through October, with some breeding activity continuing into November. Male elk, or elk bulls, are much more aggressive during this time. The peak of the elk rut season is when the most elk breeding activity occurs. During the elk rut season, there is lots of bugling, cow elk communication, and elk movement. During elk rutting season, bull elk may attack anything that comes close to them or their mates, which provides protection for the herd.

The Peak of Elk Rut Season

The peak of elk rut season lasts up to 10 days when a ratio of light and dark, along with a colder snap, causes hormones in cow elk to flow(estrus cycle). Each cow comes into estrus at slightly different times during the elk rut season. While elk cows won't all go into estrus during the peak, it is called the peak of the elk rut season because most will.