Yellowstone visitors warned about "unpredictable" bull elk

Bull elk at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Mating season has begun amongst Yellowstone's biggest population of large mammals (Image credit: Getty)

Officials at Yellowstone National Park this week cautioned all visitors to be extra vigilant around elk at this time. Mating season, better known as "rutting season," has officially begun amongst the park's biggest population of large mammals and this can cause bull elk to be especially volatile.

Yellowstone is home to some 20,000 grazing elk in the summertime and in a statement released on Wednesday, the NPS urged visitors to give all elk a wide berth right now.

"Bull elk are unpredictable during this time of year and people have been severely injured. Elk run quickly and may change direction without warning."

Giving large, unpredictable animals with antlers a lot of space might seem like common sense, but just yesterday we reported on a video showing tourists leaving unsupervised children to feed elk at the park.

Elk are one of the largest members of the red deer family found in North America. Though not as big as moose, a bull elk in Canada can easily tip the scales at over 800lbs – short tails and light-colored coat.

Elk rutting season is the official term for elk mating season, which occurs between mid-August through mid-October, depending on your location. During this time, bull elk engage in an intricate display of pageantry to attract a mate including gathering cow elk together in small groups called harems, dousing themselves in the heady scent of mud and urine, bugling, and locking antlers with other bulls in fight. 

Learn more in our article on how to enjoy elk rutting season safely, and make sure you bring binoculars if you plan to view elk on your next hike.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.