In the park, one of the signs of fall is not always what you see, but what you hear. You see, Fall is the time for elk rutting, and when the bulls are trying to attract the females, not only do they strut around, they also let out a long cry called a “bugle.” The elk put on quite a spectacle last night in Moraine Park, a huge grassy meadow area of Rocky Mountain National Park. There were elk all over the Moraine Park and Beaver Meadows area, and on the weekends, it can create quite a traffic jam, or as we call it “elk jams.” For the bull elk, this is the time for them to round up as many females or cows, as possible to mate with. It is not uncommon for one bull to have a “harem” of over 50 cows. Because the elk rut can create so much interest with visitors, the park has created a volunteer group called the Elk Bugle Corps, and teams of volunteers work with ranger each night to coordinate traffic control, and also educate people about the elk rut. Us rangers do a 30-minute talk as well, but my talk last night got interrupted when a rather large bull decided to herd his group of cows right into the amphitheatre where I was conducting my talk. I actually had to evacuate my group down the path to the parking lot for their own safety. Bulls can weigh as much as 800 pounds, and during the rut, can be really ornery, so I’ve found it’s best to keep a safe distance away. For about three hours, this went on with about six different groups of elk moving around, crossing roads, bugling all around the Moraine Park area.
One of my favorite memories was of a lone bull elk along a different road, Upper Beaver Meadows, bugling away, with nary a cow elk, nor a visitor anywhere to be seen. In that moment, I felt a little sad for him — hopefully, sometime this fall he will get his share of ladies as well. I guess the visitors that came up for the weekend really got their money’s worth, and I certainly got an interesting memory of my first elk talk for the Autumn season.