Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
During the Arkansas elk rut I have witnessed a number of bull elk fights. Each fight is different, but nearly all of them follow the same buildup. If you understand these steps, you will improve your chances of seeing and photographing a bull fight. Getting bull fight pictures is very important to me because I am a professional photographer and fight pictures are in demand.

Stem #1 -- Setting the Stage -- Satellite Bulls, the Herd and the Challengers
The basic cast of characters for a bull elk fight is the herd, the herd bull, and the satellite bulls. The herd bull is the big bull in charge of all the cows and calves. He guards the herd, and the herd bull monitors the locations of the satellite bulls, running them off now and then. 

Step #2 -- Bull Elk Challenge Each Other by Bugling
Elk bugling is not all the same, if you hear it often you will notice the different calls. Regular bugling is melodic and smooth. The calls of challenging bulls sound raspy or hoarse at the end of the call. This rough sounding call can get pretty hoarse, and you can hear the building rage.

Step #3 -- The Herd Bull Compacts the Herd
When the herd bull feels an attack is likely, he will herd his cows into a smaller, compact group and often he will back them up against a barrier like a fence or dense tree line so that he only has to defend them on one side.

Step #4 -- The Challenging Bull Run In
The challenging bull will approach the herd, sometimes running in, or just walking fast. Along the way he will often bugle very loudly. Bulls face one another and bugle very loudly and you can feel the rage and aggression build up.

Step #5 -- The Bulls Run Beside One Another -- Sizing Each Other Up
Before they fight, bulls will run along beside one another. They are sizing each other up. This is where the decision to fight is made. It has to do with the relative size of the animals. If it becomes clear to a challenging bull that he is smaller, he will not fight the herd bull and will often run off. They will run and walk fast along the edge of the herd side to side, sizing each other up, often with hoarse bugling.

Step #6 -- The Decision to Fight -- Bulls Square off and Paw the Ground
Bulls that are going to fight will square off and paw the ground. This is when I get pretty excited because the battle is on. Sometimes they tear at the ground with their antlers as well. They are very angry and you can feel the rage of the animals as they prepare to lock up

Step #7 -- The Charge and Fight
At some moment when the bulls are facing one another, they suddenly charge and lock up. This is really exciting to watch, suddenly they pick their target and take it. A bull fight is not a sword fight it is a wrestling match. The big bulls twist and turn in all sorts of amazing angles, and they unlock and reset now and then.

Step #8 -- The Loser Retreats

Step #9 -- The Cycle Continues
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Understanding Bull Elk Fights