Elk safety

Jasper National Park

Though they might not appear threatening, elk can be aggressive and attack without warning. In the spring calving season (May - June) female elk aggressively defend their young. During the fall mating season (Aug - Sept), male elk are particularly belligerent. Do not approach elk in any season as they are dangerous and can attack without warning.

Download the PDF version: Living with elk brochure (PDF 626 KB)

Elk calving season: May 15 – June 30

During calving season, protective mothers will aggressively defend their newborns by kicking and charging at people.

Danger signs during calving season:

  • Female elk is staring directly at you with flattened ears and raised rump hair, along with curled lips and grinding teeth
  • Additional danger signs include charging or kicking, and circling or following
Elk rutting season: September 1 – October 15

During rutting season, bull elk will attack anything that comes too close to them or their mates.

Danger signs during rutting season:

  • You are in danger if a bull elk appears agitated, has his antlers lowered towards you, and is pawing the ground or thrashing bushes
  • Charging is another obvious danger sign
What you need to know
  • Keep at least 30 metres away from all elk and never get between a male and the females
  • Bull elk become extremely aggressive protecting their harems during the mating season
  • Do not park your vehicle between a male and the females; elk may charge at your vehicle, which may result in damage
Tips on how to avoid and handle elk encounters
  • Travel in a group
  • Watch for elk at all times and detour around them
  • If possible walk around elk on the high side of a slope or up-hill
  • Stay back at least 30 metres
  • Keep your dog on a leash at all times
  • An unleashed dog may prompt an elk to become aggressive as they view the dog as a predator (wolf or coyote)
  • Carry pepper spray, a walking stick or an umbrella as protection
  • Act dominant if an elk gets too close
    • Raise your arms or any big object (jacket or umbrella) to make yourself appear larger, maintain eye contact, and never turn your back or run
    • Climb a tree or keep an object, like a tree or large rock, between you and the elk
    • Back slowly out of the area
    • Warn other hikers of an elk ahead and report the incident immediately to Jasper Dispatch at 780-852-6155
  • If you are knocked down or fall, get up and try to move to cover or use an object to protect yourself
  • Do not play dead

Viewing elk safely

The key to safe wildlife viewing is giving elk and other animals the space they need. For elk, we recommend at least 30 meters. Photograph the animal in its natural environment or use a telephoto lens rather than moving closer to the animal. Do not stalk or follow elk into the bush, nor try enticing them with food or by simulating animal calls. And while it might be temping, taking a selfie with wildlife is dangerous; never put people (especially children) at risk by posing them with wildlife.

How to avoid an elk encounter
  • Stay 30 metres (three bus lengths) away from all elk.
  • Travel in groups and keep everyone together, with children within arm’s reach. Carry pepper spray and consider a visual deterrent like a walking stick or umbrella.
  • Dogs must be on leash and under control. Elk often view dogs as potential predators and may charge at or attack them. Consider leaving your dog at home if you are not willing to keep it on a leash at all times.
  • During calving season, avoid lone female elk and lone calves. Walk in open areas rather than forested trails to avoid unexpected encounters with female elk or calves.
  • During rutting season, never stand or park your car between a male and the females, you may be attacked.
If you are unable to avoid an elk encounter
  • Act dominant.
  • Raise your arms or flap a jacket to make yourself appear larger.
  • Maintain eye contact and move away.
  • Seek protection behind a tree or vehicle.
  • Contact encounters are rare. If you’re knocked down, get up and move away. Do not play dead!

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