Arts & Entertainment

Fall is a time for big game

 | September 19, 2012

With the cool crisp days of September upon us and the temperature dropping in the evenings, we begin digging through our closets in search of cold weather clothing and start to think forward to winter. For big game such as deer, moose and elk, it’s time to leave their docile summer lifestyle behind as hormonal changes spark a renewed interest in the opposite sex. For outdoor photographers it’s an exciting time of year to photograph these animals as they enter into what’s called the rut, or mating, season.

The hormonal switch in the animals’ bodies, combined with the changing season, cold weather and reduced daylight hours, bring big changes in their appearance and behaviour. Dominant males will challenge each other in antler clashing duels for the right to breed with certain females. This brings out some nasty behaviour in the males with some battles leading to serious injury or even death. Both females and males will have their beautiful winter coats grown in as well. This will add much needed insulation in the way of thick hollow hairs to keep out the cold and frost.

This photograph of a mule deer buck in late August shows the antlers covered in an outside membrane called velvet. This blood filled velvet is what creates calcium deposits that eventually become the hard antler that we see in the fall and winter. When this velvet falls off or gets rubbed off by the deer, we know that the antlers have stopped growing and he’s ready to show them off. This generally happens in the first weeks of September in our area and is a sign that the mating season is on.

An interesting tidbit about mule deer is that only the dominant buck can make eye contact with other deer in the herd and not get upset about it. The next time you see a herd of deer, take note that they all feed in the same general direction.

Mule deer seem to be everywhere in the Kamloops and Sun Peaks area, but moose and elk are best seen in Jasper National Park’s Athabasca Valley where they’ve become habituated to people. The elk rut, with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and fall leaves, is amazing and I recommend planning a trip in late September or early October. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can also be seen in the Alberta Rockies with two great locations being Edna’s Knoll and Disaster Point.

In the Kamloops area, we have the California bighorn sheep rut. This cousin of the Rocky Mountain bighorn can be viewed from mid-October to the first week of November in the Lac du Bois Grasslands area and is a must see local natural event.

Wherever you end up this fall in search of rutting big game, you’re sure to have a memorable time even if you’re not a camera buff. The displays put on by these amazing creatures only come once a year.

View more of Peter’s photos at