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It's a great time to view elk in the Smokies, but keep your distance!

Elk are much more active and aggressive during the fall mating season, known as the rut, so park officials want visitors to be extra cautious around the large animals.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are being reminded to keep a safe distance from elk because they have entered the fall-breaking season known as the rut.

During the rut, male elk make bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows. They become much more aggressive towards each other and any person or vehicle that gets too close.

“Bull elk, which can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds, are wild animals with unpredictable behavior,” said Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “To help ensure your safety, maintain a distance of at least 50 yards from them at all times. Park in a safe location and remain close to your vehicle so that you can get inside if an elk approaches."

If you'd like to see the elk, you are encouraged to park a safe distance away and use binoculars, spotting scopes, or cameras with telephoto lenses to best view and photograph wildlife.

This applies to all wildlife in the park year-round. Feeding, touching, or disturbing any wildlife, as well as willfully approaching bears or elk within 50 yards (150 feet)--or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife--are all illegal in the park.

If you are approached by an elk, you should slowly back away to create space for the animal to pass. If viewing elk near roadways, pull completely off the road, and remain in or next to your vehicle at a safe distance from the animal.

For more information about elk in the park, and to watch a short video about elk viewing safety, visit www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/elk.htm.

TWRA also manages a herd of elk in the Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. You can view these elk on the TWRA elk camera.