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Next Act: Let The Bugling (Of Bull Elk) Begin In Yellowstone

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Editor’s Note: This story and photos originally ran in Mountain Journal. Visit mountainjournal.org to see the original story.

Story and photos by Steven Fuller MOUNTAIN JOURNAL

Early autumn in Yellowstone arrives when it is the middle of summer across much of the continental US.

Daily, days are growing noticeably shorter and at 8,000 feet above sea level on the Yellowstone Plateau here it means living organisms are also responding to cooler nights and mornings. Grizzly and black bears are in hyperphagia, the time when their bodies are compelling them to take in as man calories as possible. Birdlife that arrives to breed and raise their offspring in April and May are getting read to take flight for southern climes.

A week ago, as I walked down from my home to go to work there was the sparkle of frost on the boardwalk, the first frost in more than six weeks. 

Every day the meadows are showing more color and most flowers have transformed into seeds. The smoke of the continuing North American continental western fires filter the light of the sun making for morning golden light. When the smoke is most thick the moon is a blood red disc. But the first cold rains of the season promise to clear the air of soot and dust though as I write visibility due to smoke is less than four miles. 

The bison rut is well past mid-peak, but will continue for some weeks. A primary marker of the transition from summer to autumn is the shedding of the velvet that has nourished the summer long growth of this years’ bull elk antlers. Every year the local bulls shed their velvet the second week in August, perhaps the surest sign of the change of seasons. 

I’d like to share some photos and captions speaking to what I’ve witnessed. The elk rut, when bulls emit a sound colloquially called “bugling,” and spar with their rivals, each trying to gather together females for breeding, has already begun. 

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