Although elk may look calm and complaisant, foraging their way through their day, they can move a lot faster than you think. Elk are social animals. Up to 20 or more cows, calves, and yearlings live in groups that remain apart from the smaller groups of bulls, except during the autumn mating (rutting) period. In the autumn, males compete for the attention of the females, and become cantankerous and restless. In spring and summer, females are often accompanied by young, and will attack any perceived threat.
The elk’s large size protects it from predators, along with its way of hiding newborn calves in dense cover and its habit of living in social groups. Although wolves, cougars and bears can reduce the numbers of elk, over the long term the rate of reproduction is usually sufficient to maintain populations. During the rutting season in September and October the male elk are aggressive and will fight anything that approaches, even a vehicle! In May and June you may not see young that are hidden close by the female elk, the mother will become aggressive if you approach.
If an elk shows aggression, appears nervous or you have caused them to move then you are too close! The rule of thumb is to stay 3 bus lengths (30 m) away from them.
Call the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service toll free at 1.877.952.7277 to report any aggressive elk.
More information on elk can be found in Elk in British Columbia, Ecology Conservation and Management prepared by the Ministry of Environment.