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Understanding Elk Behavior

Like the caribou, the elk is an animal that lives in herds and many of its responses are based on this instinct, but nonetheless, herding behaviors of elk can vary somewhat from season to season. Mature bulls stay away from cows and calves most of the year. During calving season, the cows are scattered widely in small groups. Once the spotted calves are able to walk, the females will then assemble into larger groups. It is common to see as many as 30 elk in a herd in Wyoming or Montana around July. Elk are shy and very suspiciou of human beings unless accustomed to them since birth as in the case of many domesticated animals.

Sometimes a herd of elk will panic and suddently stampede when they sense some sign of danger. The danger may be sensed by only one of the members of the herd, but all will follow their instinct and will break and run away as quickly as possible. If a person suddenly appears on foot, this can trigger a stampede, as can other animals such as bears or dogs.

Myths About Elks. One myth commonly heard from hunters is that the size and age of a bull can be determined by the sound of his voice and its volume. This is not true at all. A mature 4 or 5 pointer can scream as loud or louder as an elk with the largest rack. Or vice versa, the elk with the large rack may be loud. This is just not a good way to determine anything about the elk other than he has a loud voice. The purpose of bugling in male elk is a sort of male "advertisement", and harem bulls will often try to outbugle each other. This really intensifies during the rut.

The Rut. Many outdoorsmen believe that unseasonably hot weather can delay the breeding season. This is simply not true, but an early cool season can help speed up the rut. What seems to impact the arrival of the rut more than anything is the amount of daylight in each day. Hormonal changes will start ocurring as soon as the days begin getting shorter. For weeks during the rut, a harem bull has a full time job of keeping his group intact. He is constantly rounding up wandering cows and drives away would be rival bulls.