The elk mating season, better known as the rut, has arrived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This means that the best time to view elk in the park is between now and the next couple of weeks.
The best places to see elk in the Smoky Mountains are in the Cataloochee Valley and near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and the best times for viewing are early in the morning and just before sunset.
The elk rut is characterized by the loud bugling noise made by adult males. The typical bugle call of a male bull elk is a distinctive sound that begins deep and resonant, and becomes a high pitched squeal before ending in a succession of grunts. Elk males use a combination of bugling and aggressive behavior in an attempt to establish dominance over other males in order to attract females.
With hormones raging during this time period, gigantic battles among competing males are common.
If you plan on viewing this incredible spectacle, be sure to bring binoculars. Also, stay a safe distance away from all elk, as males are extremely aggressive and unpredictable.
This is a key time period for elk in the Smoky Mountains. The introduction of the elk back in 2001 is still considered to be an experiment, which will be expiring later this year. At that time, the University of Tennessee will provide the park with research information to help determine whether the experiment failed or succeeded. Ultimately, this will decide whether the elk stay or go. Please click here for information.
Below is an excellent 2 minute video highlighting the typical behavior of elk during the rut, including the distinctive bugle call. This footage was taken in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2006.
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