Right about now every year the elk mating season is in full swing in Montana. This breeding time is known as the rut. It is when male elk, called bulls, seek out female elk, known as cows.

Bull elk do some pretty interesting things at this time of the year. For example, they bugle. For such a large animal — some can weigh up to 700 pounds — their bugle can be very high pitched, almost a squeal. It’s unlike anything else you will hear in nature.

The bulls will use the bugle for different things. One is to tell other elk, especially other bulls, where they are located. They will also use the calls to find other elk. During the mating season the bulls are especially interested in finding cow elk to mate with.

Another unusual thing bull elk will do in the fall is fight each other using their antlers. These large bony growths on their heads are dangerous weapons. The bulls will try to push each other around by locking their antlers together in a test of strength. Sometimes if one bull breaks off and tries to run away the other bull will try to poke the elk in the side or rump. At other times the bull elks’ antlers will get stuck together. Some bull elk have been found dead, or dragging around their dead enemy, with their antlers still locked.

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Yellowstone National Park is a good place to visit at this time of the year to see and hear elk during their breeding season. The Mammoth Hot Springs area is a popular place, but visitors should beware. Bull elk will sometimes chase humans that get too close.

Another good place to go is the Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge north of Lewistown. More information about this area, including a map to help you find it, is available on the CMR website at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Charles_M_Russell/visit/visitor_activities/elk_viewing.html. Take your binoculars, a lawn chair and a warm coat or blanket to the viewing area. The action usually starts just before dark.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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