Not me silly – I’m as busy and curious as ever. I honestly don’t have time to find a rut, let alone time to get stuck in one unless we are talking about “The Rut”. The Rut is the magical dance that male elk enter into each fall. Massive bull elk bugle and pose to attract or steal a harem from another massive bull. Sometimes there is a street fight with a clash of antlers – to the victor go the spoils.
The stages of the rut were described to be by wildlife photographer, Michael Dougherty, last week – it’s like a bell curve. The cows are not ready to mate yet, but the bulls are posturing so the bugling and fighting has begun. We are on the front side of the bell curve – rising but no final victors.
I made a trip to the Boxley Valley early last week hoping to see the big bulls and to hear some bugling. The elk are most active an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise – this was an evening visit, so I was loosing light as time passed. What I saw was a massive harem with a single bull lording over them.
Pretty Boy defends his harem from intruders…
After watching Pretty Boy I made a run down to the other end of the valley and noticed that most of the other bulls were doing their own thing or hanging out with the boys…
Before I left the valley I spotted at least 4 bulls larger than Pretty Boy. None of them were taking care of a harem. There was a lot of bugling away from the harem – boys calling each other across the highway – it was like they were calling each other out, staking their claims.
I returned to the valley on Saturday at dawn with some friends. We saw a few adolescents as we checked out both ends of the valley. As we headed north we saw a lot of parked cars alongside the highway – always a good sign. We parked just in time to see Pretty Boy moving his harem into the river cane. The size of his group was markedly smaller – maybe 20 cows. We saw him at the corner of the meadow, he bugled and all those cows bolted and followed him behind the curtain.
Michael, the photographer I mentioned earlier, told me that he moved the harem because he knew there was a rival in the area.
We cruised the valley hoping for another siting and were about to call it a day when we saw the same harem emerge in another meadow downstream.
Michael told us to watch for a potential fight, but the rival beyond the cane never appeared. Pretty Boy had put in so much work and lost it all in moments. According to Micheal, this is the third year he has lost his harem – he’s had his pocket picked three times now. He’s just not big enough to take on the big boys yet. His strategy was to start with a large harem and try his best to hang onto them, meanwhile his rivals rest and eat and wait for their opportunity to steal the cows. The good news for Pretty Boy is that the big boys will tire out before the rut is over. There are 4 cycles of mating and by the end of the third they are spent. That’s when the fellas like Pretty Boy take over. Between now and then he will likely spar as he tries for a piece of the harem, but the truth is that he only really has a shot at the last cycle.
Until next year, Pretty Boy really is stuck in a rut.
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Amazing shots, Lorri! I wouldn’t want to meet Pretty Boy in a dark alley! He looks huge!
Incredible series of photos, and I learned a lot, too. Thank you. 🙂 They are such beautiful animals.
Thanks Robin – they are so stunning to watch. I look forward to the rut every year.
Amazing series of photos — “the harem was getting restless” photo is one of my favorites! However, the shots you got of Pretty Boy bugling are pretty spectacular. What a special opportunity you had to observe this.
Thank you – those shots into the herd were just luck – I tried to focus on a face and hope for the best.
I love bulging season. We spent many a weekend at Rocky Mountain National Park, where the elk are large and in charge. These are some of the best shots I’ve ever seen. My fave is Big Boy with his leading ladies. Terrific shots all, Lorri.
Thanks Steph. I love RMNP – and the elk there are pretty spectacular. These are Colorado elk – they are the masters of the valley to be sure. I loved it when all those cows looked over at me – just good timing. I felt so bad for Pretty Boy, working so hard and losing it all anyway.
Wonderful photos! Thanks for the rutting lesson. 🙂
Thanks – my pleasure!
This is a great Post… lovely photos and a good explanation of the goings on in nature there by you… as this really interests me as to the behaviour of these animals I found this such a good educational piece as well … thank you… great post…
Thanks Bulldog – I think we both seem to like trying to understand the behavior we see in the wild. This is my third year watching the rut – the elk are an amazingly complex species.
Great photos and more panoramic that your usual photo shoots so it shows that you are versatile. Just curious, how many hours a week do you spend on your photography?
Thanks so much. I shoot everyday, I try to get an hour in every day during the week, but it depends on the light. I probably shoot 10-15 hours a week. I look at it like playing an instrument, practice every day:)
Ahh yes, I know that so well (the practice every day). Good on you!
Facinating and very interesting! Thanks for sharing your awesome photos and commentary Lorri!
Your surrounding area is so beautiful. It suits you.
Great Photos, Lorri.
How lucky you are to see these annual displays of competition between the bulls.
Wish I was there to capture the wildlife in photos for myself. Even just watching would be amazing.
Thanks Vicki. On the evening we were out most of the action was in low light – Boxley is a narrow valley – and there are strong shadows as the sun sets – so watching was the best we could do. That sound is amazing. I’m hoping to record it on a weekend soon.
Nice post & photos, Lorrie. We used to see a lot of Elk when we lived in Colorado and out here we have Thule Elk, but it is harder to go find them.
These are Colorado elk, transplanted here in the 90’s – The original variety that was native here are extinct – the same as most of the native elk on the east coast. I’ve never seen a tule elk – googling them they look like a smaller version of the wapiti
Great post! I loved watching the elk bugle last year, but we didn’t get a chance to go this time around.
There’s still time this year – at least there is here 🙂 I have seen the bugling as late as Thanksgiving weekend. It’s an amazing sound. Almost etherial.
Most definitely, and now you’ve got me pondering a road trip… 🙂
C’mon down! 🙂
Great photos, and Pretty Boy looks spectacular. Rutting season is always a special time of the year…the onset of autumn and beginning of hunting season, but also a time to really take in the beauty of nature. Cheers.
Thanks – I love this time of year – so many sights to take in. The rut is just the icing on the cake:)
Awesome! I also learned so much more than I knew before. Wonderful pictures Lorri!
Thanks Jackie – I got some great info from some locals – they are fascinating creatures
Fascinating tale and photography – you must feel so privileged to see this each year – I know feel that I was there with you! And I love that photo of the female looking back at you.
Thanks – I do feel really lucky to be close enough to follow these guys. Most of the photogs who show up on the weekends chase the big bulls – I kinda like getting a cool shot of a cow like that. She was so close, almost within arms reach.