An October sunrise across the Jewell Wildlife Area is cool and crisp and quiet…but not for long! Elk “bugling” is unlike any trumpet or trombone that you’ve ever heard, according to Wildlife Area Manager, Bryan Swearingen:
“All bull elk will bugle but the majority of the bugling that you hear out here during the rut is from the mature bulls because they are dominant and actually run the smaller bulls off. The bulls bugle at one another, they challenge one another, then they kind of pace side by side.”
Swearing added that there are many other signs that the “rut” or elk breeding season has arrived.
“The bull elk will square off and then all of a sudden they turn and lock their antlers with each other and push against one another. It goes on – back and forth for several minutes and the elk really mean business until one of them finally gives up.”
It isn’t a fight to the death, but a pushing match that determines strength and virility in the herd. The bull elk grow antlers up to five feet high with a tip-to-tip spread that’s even wider.
As hormones rise, the bulls become more aggressive and alder “tree rubs” are common:
“I think the tree rubs color up the antlers and it also lets the elk burn up some of their aggression. It also helps establish herd dominance,” said Swearingen. “If they tear up a tree, it says to the other elk I’m meaner than you so stay away from me.”
Photos from Grant's Getaways: Elk Watch
You won’t want to stay away from the Jewell Wildlife Area at this time of year, but keep in mind that Jewell is but one of three Oregon “Elk Watch” sites that provide amazing moments in the wild.
Each December, Ed Miguez, the Elkhorn Wildlife Area Manager, drives his feed truck 150 miles a day so to reach 10 feeding stations across the 12,000 acre Elkhorn Wildlife Area that sprawls across Union and Baker Counties.
“The reason we do this is because elk traditionally would go off to the valley and just go from haystack to haystack to haystack. They would wipe out 200-300 tons of hay in a few days."
The Elkhorn WA winter feeding program began in 1971 to keep hungry Rocky Mountain Elk up in the forest rather than ranch lands on the valley floor. Other wildlife benefit from feeding benefit too -- including hundreds of mule deer.
While most of the Elkhorn WA area is closed to public entry in winter, so not to disturb the elk – the Anthony Creek Feeding Station stays open so visitors can stand by a warming fire and enjoy the wildlife show a few hundred feet away.
There’s one more show that should not be missed on this statewide Elk Watch:
It’s the ‘dancing antlers” at Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area along State Highway 38, three miles east of Reedsport, Oregon are guaranteed to stop you in your tracks, according to Bob Golden, the Refuge Manager.
“As people stop, the elk get more curious and come closer to the fence line. Sometimes, the entire herd is just three or four yards from the fence.”
The elk have lived on the one thousand acre Dean Creek site since the 1930’s when salt marshes were drained and fresh water fed the grasslands. The grass now feeds a herd of 120 Roosevelt Elk.
Back at Jewell Wildlife Area, Swearingen said that visitors should bring patience when they come – and don’t be afraid to linger longer – even after sunset.
“It may well be worth your time to wait an hour after dark and just listen because you will hear antlers clashing and bugling bulls - you may not see much it’s still a good experience.”
If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.
In addition, be sure to check out “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” you will enjoy 48 uniquely oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. scores of colorful photos by “grant’s getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field. you can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."
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