It’s fall, which we associate with cooler temperatures and the start of hunting seasons across the state. To Idaho’s wildlife, fall is the time of year when many species of wildlife such as elk, moose, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and mountain goats breed or go into rut. When in rut, they begin searching for a receptive female(s) to mate with.
During the rut, large bull elk will start to herd cow elk into their harem.
Rut lasts 4-6 weeks for moose, elk and deer. In Idaho, these three species are the common species that people are most likely to encounter in more urban areas. While there is some range in exact timing, elk rut in September, moose rut in late September into early October and deer in November.
With expanding human populations infringing further on historical wildlife habitat, as well as increasing numbers of deer, elk, and moose taking up residence in town, more potential exists for negative interactions to occur, leading to public safety issues. It is important for people to understand that what has been perceived as a somewhat calm animal during most of the year can now quickly become agitated and aggressive towards other wildlife, people and their pets.
Fish and Game biologists in the Magic Valley Region have taken calls over the last few weeks of aggressive bull moose in the Wood River Valley, with reports of these large ungulates showing aggression to people out recreating or even with them coming into very close contact with people at their homes.
A large bull moose hanging out in a residential yard in Shoshone, ID
Elk, moose and deer are large animals and are deceptively agile and quick. In a blink of an eye, they can rapidly charge or attack a person or a pet that they perceive as a threat.
Many instances of people getting charged and injured by male animals during this period of time have been documented on video, particularly in Yellowstone National Park and Estes Park, Colorado.
Safety tips during the rut
Personal safety during the fall rut months is no different than during the rest of the year. Residents and visitors alike need to be vigilant of their surroundings when recreating in wildlife habitats, and when wildlife lives in or near communities or neighborhoods. People should always practice responsible wildlife etiquette, particularly giving animals their space. When animals are in rut, people need to exercise extreme caution when a bull moose or elk, or buck deer is nearby.
Actions to keep people safe during the rut:
- Keep all dogs on leash.
- Never allow your dog to chase big game animals.
- If you see a bull moose or elk, or buck deer do not approach. Keep as much space between yourself and the animal as possible (at least 30 yards). Pay attention to the animal’s behavior. If the animal lowers its head, pins its ears, raises the hair along its neck, or vocalizes, it is trying to tell you to move away.
- If you are charged try to put a large object like a tree, car or building between you and the animal.
- Remove attractants that can attract wildlife into your yard. If you have fruit trees, pick up all the fruit that might have fallen on the ground.
- Remove items from yards that might entangle moose, elk or deer such as swing sets, hammocks, lawn ornaments, lawn chairs or even garden materials like tomato cages.
- Highway driving is especially hazardous during the rut when wildlife can be very unpredictable, especially when crossing busy highways and roads. Motorists need to be constantly alert for wildlife, especially during the early morning or evening hours when migrating wildlife might dart across highways and roads.
Items like backyard swings are easy things for antlered wildlife to become entangled in
It is a treat to watch wild animals during this time of year because it is a brief glimpse into an exciting part of their lives. But it is imperative on everyone to acknowledge that as a wild animal, they have the ability to injure humans and pets quite easily if we do not give them the respect and space they need.
For additional information contact the Magic Valley Regional Office at (208) 324-4359 or your local Fish and Game office.