Estes Park overrun by herd of elk during rutting season

ESTES PARK — Rutting season is underway, to the delight of about two dozen tourists who got an unexpected treat Wednesday morning when a herd of elk gathered in a small park near the center of town.

One bull sat and nibbled on grass while about 20 adult females and yearlings grazed nearby. It was shortly before 8 a.m., and the famous tourist town at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park was just beginning to stir.

“He’s a big one,” said Estes Park mayor Wendy Koenig, who was no less fascinated by the elk appearance than the tourists, even though she is a town native and has spent most of her life here.

“A lot of people actually think we just let them out of pens,” Koenig said. “Our favorite question up here in Estes Park is, ‘When the did the deer turn into elk?’ Well, they look a little like a big deer, in a way.”

Soon an Estes Park policeman arrived on the scene with a message for the elk: No loitering here, time to move on. That was for public safety, because in rutting season, bulls can aggressive, and the crowd of tourists was growing.

“The bull, if he decides to do something, which they do this time of year, people can get hurt,” Koenig said. “They look really docile, but the bulls aren’t, necessarily. Particularly if another bull comes down in the area. ”

When the bull got up to leave, it became obvious he had a hitch in his gitalong.

“He’s really limping,” Koenig said. “He must have either been in a fight or got hit by a car.”

Most of the rutting activity takes place away from the town center, such as at Lake Estes on the outskirts of town. Koenig got to see one of those dramas unfold there recently.

“There were about six bulls, and they were trying to see who could sneak off with the herd of females,” Koenig said. “The females were in the water, so you had water going everywhere and this young (bull) jumped in. He thought he had it made. Then the big bull saw what was happening. He came out in the water and the young one went, ‘Oh, OK,” and he turned around and walked off, ‘I’ll wait ’til next year.’”

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