Tule Elk Rut

Tule Elk


  1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
  2. accidental discovery


In October, I went to Estes Park, Colorado, the hotbed of elk activity, to photograph the rut. There weren’t many elk around, and Moraine Park was empty.

Moraine Park
Moraine Park


Later, I was in Northern California to spend time with wild bobcats, and I stumbled upon the tail end of the Tule elk rut! Once thought extinct, Tule elk are endemic to this 71,000-acre patch of preserved land and not found anywhere outside of Northern California. Historically, large herds were found throughout central and coastal California. There are three subspecies of American elk. Rocky Mountain elk are the most common. Roosevelt elk are the largest of the elk subspecies and are found in the Pacific Northwest.

Tule Elk
Mirror Image in the Fog

As I travel the Point Reyes National Seashore roads, it seems like there is a massive bull over every hill! When I was last here, four years ago, I only saw elk in the wilderness area of Tomales Point. I’m happy to see them expanding their numbers. There are a few bulls with large harems, but mostly, the elk are alone or in smaller bachelor herds.

Just outside the Tomales Point Elk Reserve, I encountered a sizable bachelor herd. Some were grazing, some were resting, and some were sparing – a friendly way to hone their skills for the real stakes.


Antlers intertwined, clashing and pushing one another. It’s a wonder they don’t poke each other’s eyes out. Elk spar from when they shed their velvet to when they shed their antlers (approx. August to March). It’s a way for them to test their strength.

Tule Elk
Time Out.

There are no winners or losers, even when the participants are wholly unmatched. It’s playful yet powerful.

The next day, I encountered a similar group in the early morning marine fog. With rain on the horizon, most people stayed in. I was alone in the park with these elk.

All was quiet except for the crisp sounds of clashing antlers and occasional piercing elk bugles carrying over the hills. The sounds of nature are just as impressive as the sights.


This bull elk is all testosterone and seriousness. He is pushing his harem, posturing with his neck long and extended. Head tilted back as far as the long antlers allow as he bellows his haunting, screeching bugle.

He looks directly at me and steps forward. He bugles his disdain. I am in the safety of my car and using a long lens, but it’s still unnerving.

I grabbed a couple more images and moved on to relieve his stress.

At the end of the day, a lone bull grazed on a hilltop—a fitting end to a surprisingly elky day.

Let your sense of adventure be your guide.


If you’re interested in purchasing or licensing any images you see here, please email me at SNewenham at exploringnaturephotos.com, and I’ll make it happen.

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2 Replies to “Tule Elk Rut”

  1. Wow! Those antlers are really HUGE and wide! Enjoyed their many sparring positions! Glad you stay very, very safe and could leave in a second if needed. Plus your kindness to reduce his stress – you are so good to nature. And thanks for adding the sound part to hear what a loud and long, high scree-ee-ch they bellow out. Thanks for teaching about elk and rutting. You make it interesting to learn.

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