|"Elk Studies" Watercolor|
Browsing along the forest’s edge, the Rocky Mountain elk is a force of nature that thrives in Colorado’s foothills. Being one of the largest land mammals in North America, the bull of this species is an impressive creature.
The monarch of the mountains is distinguished by large antlers which are shed annually. Big bulls usually have eight or nine tines on each antler but there is no correlation between the number of tines and the animal’s age or maturity.
The elaborate antlers start growing in the early spring and are shed each winter. During growth, they’re protected by a soft cover-layer of fuzzy skin known as velvet. The velvet is worn off during the summer, revealing the fully developed bone antler.
Each fall massive males engage in a ritualized mating behavior known as the rut. During this strenuous season, mature bulls compete for the attention of cow elk and try to defend the females already included in their harem.
Bulls that enter the rut in poor condition are less likely to garner the strength needed to survive the harsh winters brewed in the Front Range. To prepare for such hardship, they spend the entire summer gorging on lush, meadow grasses.
Rival bulls challenge each other and display dominance through aggressive posturing, bellowing and occasional sparring. Much of the intimidating body language is for show but in extreme circumstances, a minor conflict escalates into a real brawl.
Vocal males are rewarded as females are attracted to bulls that bugle more often and have the loudest call. For everyone else around here, the distinctive sound is a haunting indicator that summer’s gone and winter is almost upon us.