By Dina Mishev
Not nearly so fearsome looking as bison nor as cute as moose, elk are one of Grand Teton National Park's often under-appreciated animals ... until about now when their mating season begins.
If you've never heard a male elk bugle, you've never heard one of the eeriest, most piercing vocals in the animal kingdom. Until you actually see a bull elk bare its ivories (elk have four ivory teeth) and bugle, it's difficult to imagine the noise actually comes from a living creature. Bull elk are bugling to attract the attention of the ladies.
Several thousand elk call Grand Teton National Park home during the summer. Once the snow starts, they migrate to the National ElkRefuge, which abuts the park's southeastern border. Between now and then, their main missions are to bulk up for the winter and to mate.
Unlike bison and moose, elk are rarely dangerous, despite their ginormous (and very pointy) antlers. Only male (bull) elk grow antlers and they shed them annually. Wondering how many elk had to die for Jackson to build those four elk antler arches on its town square? None. Bull elk drop their antlers every winter. As they begin to grow back in the spring, they can grow at a rate of an inch a day. The bigger an elk's antlers, the older he is. Large — say, six-point — antlers can weigh up to 40 pounds. If you happen to stumble upon shed elk antlers in the park, keep in mind that it is illegal to remove them.
But I digress. Back to mating elk.
Elk aren’t actually mating when they’re bugling; they’re just trying to convince some ladies they’re cool and strong enough to mate with at a point in the near future. So if you’re worried you’ll get an NC-17 scene when you’re out innocently enjoying some bugling, fear not.
Good spots to listen for bugling elk are around the Lupine Meadows trailhead about six miles inside GTNP from the Moose entrance, the Climbers Ranch, which is just before the Lupine Meadows trailhead, and Timbered Island, which is on the opposite side of the road from the Climbers Ranch and Lupine Meadows trailhead. The action starts at dusk and should be continuing into October.
If you want some help finding the elk along with a bit of exercise, Teton Mountain Bike Tours offer a four-hour bugling elk bike ride along the paved pathway in the park.
Watch this YouTube video to see a bull elk bugle:
A 14-year resident of Jackson, Dina Mishev is the author of Total Tetons, an app available in the iTunes store. She is also a host of the Wyoming PBS show Wyoming Chronicle and is always looking for interesting people to interview. Email her if you've got any suggestions.