When we think of wildlife, it is the bears that are the most famous, but Elk are the most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone. The park is home to as many as 20,000 elk in the summer.
The Yellowstone elk herd is really of collection of eight smaller herds. Only one herd, the Firehole-Madison herd, spends the entire year in the park. Most herds migrate back and forth across the park boundaries.
In spring, elk appear ragged. They seem thin after the long winter. They also are molting, or shedding their winter coat. As the winter coat disappears, their coat shines with a reddish/golden tinge.
By late May or early June, cow elk begin to give birth to spotted calves that weigh about 30 lbs. Elk calves have little to no scent, which helps them hide from the park’s multitude of predators. The 500 lb. cow’s bed the calves in tall grasses and then graze a short distance away.
After about ten days or so, the calves are strong and fast enough to join the herd that is made up of cows, calves and young bulls, called spikes. Spike antlers usually only have one point or tine.
The fall in the park is remarkable. Yellowstone’s grasses turn a beautiful yellowish gold. Steam from the thermal areas covers the meadows with mystery. If you are patient, you get to hear one of nature’s grandest songs, the bugle of bull elk. It starts as a high pitched moan only to increase into a loud series of short grunts.
Bull elk bugle to attract cows and claim their dominance over smaller and less powerful rivals. Often large bulls, that can weigh 700lbs or more, do battle for a group of cows called a harem. These bulls sport antlers that are six feet wide and have six to eight tines on each side.
Mammoth Hot Springs is always a hot bed of activity in the fall. Stay alert, keep a safe distance and always give yourself an out. And don’t forget your camera!