11 replies [Last post]
Location: Utah
Joined: 02/24/2003
Posts: 596
Elk Rut Definition

Ok guys and gals this is something that gets discussed and thrown around quite a bit so I wanted to have a discussion about it. Now this isn't meant to be argumentitive or make anyone look silly just to stimulate conversation and thought. I just want to speak apples to apples and is just something that has kind of been a pet peave of mine.

It's my belief that most hunters define the elk rut as: When the elk are bugling simply put. Based on the amount of bugling they hear most hunters try to categorize the stage of the rut and if it has started late or early and when they think it will end. This is most often blamed on weather and sometimes moon phase.

I believe this to be at least partially incorrect. Now I don't have any immediate references but I have read and talked to several sources and people smarter than me that say the rut is NOT tied to weather or moon phases. In fact I don't think anyone knows for sure what signals the elk to rut.

What I believe the true definition of the elk rut is this: Any hormonal conditions existing in individuals that make up a significant part of the elk popluation in a given area that causes those individuals to demonstrate any behavior where the end result or intention is to procreate. There are lots of rutting behaviors like; tearing up trees, fighting other bulls, chasing cows, rolling in a wallow, peeing on themselves, bugling, glucking, chuckling, wrestlessness, wandering, and many other subtle behaviors.

While I complete understand the intensity of those hormones and behaviors can vary greatly during the rutting period I still believe the constant songs sung by bulls and their complete disregard for their own well-being in the form of chasing cows at all costs, fighting other bulls, and responding to any variation of a call is only the tip of the iceberg, the climax if you will. I believe this to be the peak of the rut.

I also believe that weather, temperature, and moon phase have nothing to do with the start, end, or what stage the of the rut the elk are in. It's my belief that weather, temperature, and moon light only effect what time of day the elk are most active. It's my opinion that a bull on on September 15th in 100 degree weather is wanting to breed with a cow every bit as much as bull that on the same date is in 40 degree weather. I do believe the bull in 100 degree temps will not be bugling his head off, chasing cows, and fighting other bulls. His survival instincts and other biological processes tell him to sit under a tree and stay cool. He will simply wait until temps cool (at night) and get on with the business of mating at that point. Same with the cows.

I've read that some cows start coming into heat in late August and will come into heat every 30 days until bred up to 3 or 4 times. There are lots of cows that are bred in October and I've heard bugles into late October.

Yes you will have to change your tactics and from the hunters point of view it may appear that the rut is "slow", or "late", or what ever when the weather is warm or the moon is out but I believe the rut is still on as much as if the weather is cool. The elk are just active at more at night when we have our heads on our pillows dreaming about chasing them. Point is if you wait until the weather cools for different hunting conditions.....I get that it makes sense because elk will be more active during hunting hours and more responsive to calls. But on the other hand I don't think weather, temps, and moon light have ANY affect on the TIMING of the rut or the intensity of it.

IMO they are rutting from end of August to end of October and the peak is in mid to late September period. Weather only dictates hunting conditions NOT rut stages.

What are your thoughts?

SoCoKHntr's picture
Offline
Location: Pueblo Colorado
Joined: 12/18/2006
Posts: 1789
Elk Rut Definition

I agree with most of your premise other then the weather part. Yes, the rut is the triggering of breeding behavior due to hormonal stimuli. However, I do believe the onset of cooler weather is a direct trigger or stimuli if you will that pushes that hormonal cascade to peak. I've seen the rutting behavior kick into higher gear as the temperature drops and gets cooler and or wetter. To me there is a direct correlation. I might add being no expert or biologist that is my opinion from my observation. It will be interesting to hear exbiologist chime in.

Location: Utah
Joined: 02/24/2003
Posts: 596
Elk Rut Definition

it will be interesting to hear what others have to say because I have been told that weather is not a trigger. The cooler temps only cause the elk to be more active during the day in my observations.

Location: Utah
Joined: 02/24/2003
Posts: 596
Elk Rut Definition

Here's the opinion of Chris Roe on the subject. This would suggest weather has nothing to do with it.

"First, we need to define what we mean by "the rut?" For some, they are referring to the entire period a bull bugles in the fall - from mid-August all the way into, and through, October. For me, however, I define "the rut" as the time period encompassing actual active breeding of cows. While some may say this is a relatively narrow view of "the rut," I believe there is a definite period, defined by very clear behaviors, that separate elk activities into the pre-rut, rut, and post-rut phases.

For breeding of cows, there is one primary trigger - the estrous cycle of cows, dictated by the cycling of hormones in the cow, triggered by the ratio between daylight and darkness (photoperiod). The cycling of the photoperiod each year is relatively constant (i.e. fall equinox being roughly the 23rd each year, +/- a day or two), so the cycling of hormones each year is relatively constant. The full moon definitely plays into the animal's perceived daylight/darkness ratio, but the jury is still out on whether or not the full moon actually affects the TRIGGERING of hormone changes and ultimately active breeding, or whether it just heightens the observed behavior of the animals in question (similar to how the full moon supposedly brings out the craziness in certain people... i.e. why ERs can often see increased activity around the full moon). I'm doing some research/investigating of my own right now on that very question.

Weather definitely affects the observed behavior (i.e. Hot, dry weather can see little to no bugling activity, but bring on the first really cold morning, or the next beautiful morning after bad weather, and bulls can go absolutely nuts!), but make no mistake about it, the ratio of daylight to darkness is the primary factor affecting my definition of "the rut." You can see this by the fact that year in and year out, regardless of the weather and regardless of the full moon cycle, most cow elk show up on the summer ranges with their calves like clock-work pretty much the same time each year, with most calves being relatively the same age – meaning they all conceived their calves within roughly the same time-period each year. How many times over the years have you heard someone say – or you’ve said - “there didn’t seem to be any rut this year...” yet every year, cows give birth to calves. Regardless of whether or not we observer rutting behavior, “rut happens!” smile

SoCoKHntr's picture
Offline
Location: Pueblo Colorado
Joined: 12/18/2006
Posts: 1789
Elk Rut Definition

[quote="You can see this by the fact that year in and year out, regardless of the weather and regardless of the full moon cycle, most cow elk show up on the summer ranges with their calves like clock-work pretty much the same time each year, with most calves being relatively the same age – meaning they all conceived their calves within roughly the same time-period each year. How many times over the years have you heard someone say – or you’ve said - “there didn’t seem to be any rut this year...” yet every year, cows give birth to calves. Regardless of whether or not we observer rutting behavior, “rut happens!” smile
[/i][/color]

Just a minor point in regard to the statement above. I don't think many have argued that a complete rut or breeding cycle didn't occur in any given year. The primary debate being when it may have started early or later in a time span of two weeks to four at the most and in this regard whether weather may have affected it's onset or peaking. So, we are talking about subjective difference of a few weeks and unless they are going by the cows showing up on the calving grounds at exactly the same date every year I don't see how that statement makes sense. Unless of course someone was arguing no rut had occurred the year before at all.

Location: Utah
Joined: 02/24/2003
Posts: 596
Elk Rut Definition

Yeah I would say you're right that no one argues that a rut really occurred or not but the first part of the quote shouldn't be ignored either where the argument that photoperiod, or the ratio of daylight to darkness is what triggers the rut and that is not weather related.

Again I believe the inactivity you see during warm days is just what you can see. What you can't see is the elk doing their normal rituals at night when you aren't looking.

My point of view can be summed up this way:

Elk rut just as much during warm weather as they do during the cooler weather. They are just more active during cooler days during daylight hours.

What's central to this discussion is does bugling equal rutting? My opinion is no bugling is only a behavior demonstrated by rutting bulls and in hot weather that cycle is not interupted at all....only certain behaviors are interupted such as bugling.

If you really think about it a warm fall does not mean a late spring so there would be no natural reason to postpone the rut for late calve births due to weather patterns. Calves have a small window where they can be dropped and survive the first year of their lives and you can almost set your clock to when calves drop in the spring suggesting rut timings are largely uniterrupted by anything.

There is no doubt cooler weather make bulls more active during the day. But I would still suggest weather does not affect rut timing.

Location: Utah
Joined: 02/24/2003
Posts: 596
Elk Rut Definition

To further the point how many people talk about seeing cows in estrus and annouce that the rut has started? Nobody says that but if you really think about that is what really drives the rut isn't it....receptive cows?

I think over time as hunters we have mistakenly relied too much on bugling to determine rut start and intensity primarily because we hunt bulls and let's face it's by far the most noticeable and sensational part of the rut. Bugling only indicates how hard bulls are fighting for cows. But why would we rely soley on how bulls are acting if they aren't even what truly drives the rut, the receptive cows do right? In other words bugling only a part of the rutting ritual, not the indication of it.

SoCoKHntr's picture
Offline
Location: Pueblo Colorado
Joined: 12/18/2006
Posts: 1789
Elk Rut Definition

I've never considered the rut to be starting or fully in swing solely by bugling. To me it's activity meaning seeing more animals period. The first few weeks of Sep. have tended to be very hot and with little activity (animals) seen the past few years. And then, bam, usually a half week into muzzleloader season there's a heck of lot more activity in terms of seeing herds, seeing bulls messing with cows, and yes hearing bugles. More chances of running into them even in daylight hours. Again, for me it's been the activity which signals the rut.

Location: Utah
Joined: 02/24/2003
Posts: 596
Elk Rut Definition

What you are reporting is actually only supporting what I'm theorizing. Warmer weather just keeps the elk less active during DAYLIGHT hours and that is exactly what you're saying as well. Nothing that you've said so far indicates that the rut is delayed somehow, again your observations are only stating elk are less active during warmer daylight hours. (I think moon light also played a part in this last year)

So what in your observations leads you to believe that the rut is in fact delayed or late rather than the elk are just being active at night because the heat of the day? This very question is the reason I brought this subject up.

What is your opinion on photoperiod being the drver for the rut?

Location: Utah
Joined: 02/24/2003
Posts: 596
Elk Rut Definition

Thanks SoKo for talking with me a bit about this.

I must say though I'm very disappointed at the lack of feedback I got on this issue from anyone else. I thought this would a very good thought provoking thread. But it turned out to be a dud.

Maybe this would be a bit more interesting discussion in the off season or I just need to frame it a bit differently in the future. Or maybe I need to reach down deep and use some of my marketing skills to create a catchier subject line.

SoCoKHntr's picture
Offline
Location: Pueblo Colorado
Joined: 12/18/2006
Posts: 1789
Elk Rut Definition

rather be hunting, sorry about not getting back at ya. You bring up some good points and me not being a biologist and just going by observation will say what you surmise certainly sounds plausible. I surely thought exbio would have some input, would have been interesting to hear from him. Well, in two days I'll be getting some more observation under my belt for a week and will let you know what I see this year and maybe some pics to boot.

Good luck on your hunting endeavors.