It is that time of year again, when Payson residents awake not just to crowing roosters, but bugling elk.
When the bull elk sound off in the Rim Country one knows that fall is in the air as the “rut” mating season begins and vocal bulls declare their interest in meeting some females.
According to Roundup outdoor columnist and hunter Dennis Pirch, a young bull’s call is more like a whistle, while a mature animal declares his dominance with a stronger bugle that has a few distinguishing guttural grunts.
“To an outdoorsman, there are a few predictable signs that wildlife exhibit at seasonal times of the year,” Pirch said. “For example, the gobble of a wild turkey is a welcome sign for spring, the honking of Canada geese as they arrive for winter, and of course, the bugle of a bull elk in the early fall in the mountains of the West are all benchmark events in nature.”
The Rim Country has a healthy herd of North American wapiti elk. A herd bull may have 20 cows in his harem he is constantly guarding. The dominant bulls have larger racks that are used in combat in securing and keeping his herd of cows.
While the herd bull tries to keep his harem intact, many satellite younger bulls will try to steal away any wandering cows.
The dominant bull is challenged frequently, which often creates a clashing of antlers that can break the silence of early dawn or late afternoon where the sound can carry for over a mile.
It is common for a herd bull to move his harem several miles to avoid the competition of satellite bulls. Many times during an early rut hunt, trophy animals seem to vanish where in actuality the herd bull has moved his herd two or three miles during the night.
The results of these fights often mean broken antler tines and even main beams being sheared off by the mere force of two 800-pound animals colliding. Many trophy 6-point bulls end the rut with a remnant of what their rack used to be, proving their dominance. The rutting period takes its toll on these animals in that as much as 15 to 20 percent of their body weight will be lost.
It is common to see elk during the early morning and late afternoons. During this period, if you see a cow, chances are good that a bull elk is close by. Expect the unexpected, a bull may step out or herd the cows right across the street in front of your vehicle. It is wise to slow down and drive defensively in the reduced light or after dark, because hitting an elk with a vehicle is a losing proposition.