Elk calf during the Cataloochee rut in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Elk calf during the Cataloochee rut

It’s almost showtime for the elk in the Cataloochee Valley inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In mid-September the bulls start challenging for herd dominance and the right to mate with the cows. You will hear bugling as they all try to say “this herd is mine!”. During the rut the herd is active much of the day. You’ll find the not only the main herd, minus all of the lesser bulls that the dominant bull has kicked out, but you will also see smaller groups of maybe 3 or 4 cows with their own bull. There is even a smaller group that has moved to the Big Cove area of Cherokee and doesn’t come back to Cataloochee any more.

The important thing to remember is to not get too close to the elk. Getting too close is dangerous for you and stresses them. You will know you are getting too close if they are grazing and then pick their heads up to look at you. For close-ups that fill the frame now is the time to use the zoom lens on your camera. You can also get nice landscapes without having to get so close. Landscapes are better for giving you a good sense of place.