Yellowstone tourists learn the hard way why you should never, ever approach elk during the rut

Elk bugling during the rut
(Image credit: Future)

With their magnificent antlers and bugling calls, bull elk are at their most impressive during the rutting season, so it may be tempting to get close for a better look at them, but as these tourists learned, it's much safer to give them space and watch from a safe distance.

A video shared this week via Instagram account TouronsOfYellowstone shows a large group of people who have gathered to watch a group of elk at the roadside. One has stopped their truck in the middle of the road, causing traffic to back up, while others have left their vehicles for a better view.

As you can see in the clip, which is embedded below, one particular bull elk reacts to this intrusion by charging the stopped truck, sending those on foot sprinting back to the safety of their cars.

Elk generally prefer to avoid close encounters with people, but males (bulls) are more likely to show aggression during the rut in the fall, while females (cows) are prone to charging when protecting their young calves in the spring.

Usually elk will begin with a bluff charge intended to drive the potential threat away, but they are powerful animals and can cause serious injuries if they knock a person down. Last month, people in Estes Park, Colorado (a town famous for its elk population) were warned to take care after several elk attacks were reported within a week.

In one incident, a four-year-old boy was injured after accidentally getting too close to a pair of elk calves that were hidden near a playground. A family member scared the animal away and the child was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment before being released.

Rangers later found several cow elk near the playground and drove them away using non-lethal beanbag rounds.

Elk safety

The National Park Service (NPS) warns people visiting Yellowstone to always give animals plenty of space, and never deliberately approach or distract them. Visitors should stay at least 25 yards (23 meters) from elk and bison, and 100 yards (93 meters) from predators like bears and wolves.

The NPS says the safest place to watch wildlife is from within your car, but you should always respect the animals and other road users. 

"Use pullouts to watch wildlife and let other cars pass," say officials. "Stay with your vehicle if you encounter a wildlife jam."

If you're planning to visit a National Park this fall, our guide how to enjoy elk rutting season safely is packed with advice to help you enjoy watching these impressive animals without disturbing them.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.