A Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) is an impressive animal. Bull weights average 700 pounds, whereas cows are about 345 pounds. The majestic antlers of a bull elk can weigh more than 40 pounds.
Elk calves are born in late May and June after a gestation period of about 250 days. The newborn calf weighs almost 30 pounds and is usually a single, with twins occurring less than 1% of the time. Cow elk can be productive breeders for more than 14 years. Yearling cows do not usually breed, and when they do, calf survival is lower than in older cows.
In August, bull antlers complete their growth and the bulls begin thrashing trees to remove the velvet. They begin sparring, and dominance is being established among bulls by late August. When bugling and harem formation begin, the priority of the bull is to keep subdominant bulls away from his harem of 15 20 cows. The peak of the rut, or breeding, is early October in most areas. Almost all cows are bred within a 3-week period.
During the rut, cows and calves continue feeding to build condition for the demands of winter. By early fall, calves could survive independent of their mother, but they continue to stay with the herd. Although the bull seems to control the herd during the rut, it is an older cow that decides when and where the herd goes to avoid real or perceived danger.
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