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.