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Elk Mating Season Underway
September 13, 2023

Some people think springtime is their favorite time to visit the wildlife park to see baby animals. To others, summer is the best time: grizzly bears splashing around in pools and icy treats for everyone. And to others, winter offers a chance to see how animals adapt to colder temperatures and grow extra layers of fur. But to many, autumn is the most magical time: A palette of bronze sweeps the hillsides—golden light streams through the trees. Dust rises from animals, rolling and sparring. And through the forest comes an eerie, haunting whistle – the sound of elk bugling.


The rut – mating season – runs September-November. In the Free-Roaming Area, male elk, mountain goats, deer, and bighorn sheep put on a show and vie for dominance to select their mates. Some compare it to watching a wildlife soap opera as the males flaunt their size and racks and clash with challengers.

“The loud clash of antlers and an elk bugling are sounds you’ll never forget,” said Northwest Trek’s assistant curator Dave. “It is one of the most exciting times of the year in the Free-Roaming Area.”

The elk sparring for dominance will give loud, low, throaty grumbles that turn into high-pitched whistles or screeches, followed by a few grunts. That sound signals the elk calling for mates and threatening other bulls to stay away. Sometimes, the bulls will spar and clash antlers with one another or rub their antlers against trees and shrubs.

“Any way they can show they are the most superior of them all, they will,” said Dave.

Only time will tell who the winner of them all is. As for the female elk known as cows? They stick together and seem to pay the males no attention.

“You can’t see these intimate moments with nature unless you immerse yourself in the outdoors,” said Dave. “We are excited to share this incredible experience with our community.”

Guests may also see rams hitting horns, deer bucks rattling antlers, or mountain goats posturing and huffing at one other.

See the rut!

There are two ways this fall to see the rut in action:

  • Take a Wild Drive in the comfort of your vehicle. Cost: $70 members/$90 non-members per vehicle. Maximum of eight people per vehicle. Wild Drives include park admission.
  • Take a Keeper Adventure Tour in the Free-Roaming Area (includes park admission).