Rocky Mountain Elk

Two bull elk wandering on the prairie.
Elk are the largest deer found in Wind Cave National Park.

NPS photo / Peelee Clark


Fast Facts

  • Elk are the most vocal species in the deer family. Males bugle but females also make calls.
  • Female elk are cows. Male elk are called bulls. Baby elk are called calves.
  • There are four subspecies of Elk in North America. Wind Cave National Park is home to Rocky Mountain Elk.
  • Only males have antlers. They can grow up to an inch per day and are among the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom. They shed their antlers on a yearly basis.
a young elk with spots lying curled up in the grass
Elk calves do not have a scent and remain hidden until they are old enough to keep up with the herd.

NPS Photo

Mating Season and the Bugle

In September and October, bull elk make a loud, wailing bugle that marks the beginning of mating season. This time is also known as elk rut. The word rut is derived from the Latin word meaning roar. Bull elk compete with one another for the rights to breed and defend a group of females called a harem.

You can join a ranger program in the fall to hear their haunting calls, or venture out on your own. Watch for elk along the edges of clearings early in the day or in the evenings. Bugling is more often heard at dawn and dusk. Please do not spotlight animals or play recordings to attract wildlife.

Reintroduction and Management

Elk were extirpated from South Dakota by the late 1800's, but were re-introduced to Wind Cave in 1914 and 1916 with 42 elk from Jackson Hole Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. Almost a century later the herd grew to several hundred and was used to re-establish herds throughout the United States.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological disease that is spread by animal contact with saliva, feces, and urine causing death in all deer species that contract the disease. CWD spread to the Wind Cave elk and deer herds from an adjacent private elk herd in 2003. Since that time, the park has been researching and managing for CWD. Periodic culling operations continue to maintain the elk herd at a level that will reduce animal to animal contact and maintain healthy vegetation. Meat that tests negative for CWD is donated to Feeding South Dakota or tribal partners.


More About Elk in National Parks

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    Last updated: May 26, 2024

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