During certain times of the year, some of the hiking trails near where I live wind through herds of elk standing on or near the trails. What precautions should you take when hiking among elk?
- Use common sense.
- Don't make any sudden movements.
- Don't run or jog, walk at a consistent and normal pace.
- Give them their space, respect them from a distance.
- Don't get in between a cow elk and her calves - the cow elk and/or bull elk will find this threatening and may charge you.
- Leave your dog/pets at home. Most dogs can't resist chasing elk and elk will feel threatened.
If you are being given threatening looks or are in an encounter with an elk:
- back away slowly - as if you turn back, you won't know if he/she is charging you.
- make yourself look as large as possible
- if charged at, curl up in the fetal position, with your arms and hands protecting your head and neck. A cow elk may give you a couple of thumps with her hooves and leave you be.
The rule of thumb in Banff National Park is to keep three bus lengths away from elk. Having said that it's easy to accidentally be within a few feet an an elk. Don't panic if it happens, it's very unlikely the elk will charge you (in Banff we see elk every day but there hasn't been a contact incident in 3 years). Elk are easily startled but most of the time they are ambivalent, and more rarely either walking away or flee outright. The rare time when an elk might charge unprovoked is if you are between a cow and its calves (spring time) or near bulls or their harem during rutting season (fall).