Meet Brat, The Bull Elk
This Celebrity Elk Endears Despite An Unruly Disposition
BY RAY SPECKMAN
It was a beautiful spring day in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and my significant other, Joyce, and I were driving the roads in Rocky Mountain National Park, admiring the wildlife, the snow-capped mountains and the beauty that surrounded us. Joyce was driving, and I had my window down to better let in the fine day.
Exiting the park, we followed the road that parallels Fall River as it runs into the town of Estes Park. The river was rushing that day, as the snow melted in the high mountains we had visited earlier.
About a half-mile from the park, we noticed a half-dozen or so male elk casually grazing across the highway from one of Estes Park’s many mountain lodges, McGregor Mountain Lodge. After the rut in the fall, the males have no interest in either the cows or the offspring they have produced. After fighting, at times to near death, the bulls band together until they square off the next fall, when they fight to add cows to their harem and jealously protect as many as 100 in-heat females.
The bulls we saw were on my side of the highway. Joyce slowed to almost a standstill and finally stopped as bulls wandered on and off the road.
One of the bulls approached the car. He first stuck his nose in my open window and then turned his head and attempted to insert his six-foot-wide rack. It wouldn’t fit so he turned his head and began putting his left rack into the car. I noticed a mangled left ear. Rather taken aback by this probing 1,500 pound bull elk, I suggested (to put it mildly) that we move on, and we did.
Later we discovered that the inquisitive bull elk was something of a celebrity. His name is Brat, which befits his unruly personality.
McGregor Mountain Lodge is the unofficial home to Brat when he isn’t protecting his harem in the rut season. Chris Wood is the lodge’s owner. A voice major in college, Chris did not exactly plan to spend his life running a lodge. He went to a job fair, thought Estes Park and the mountains sounded inviting, took a job as housekeeper, “and I never looked back,” he says. From housekeeping, he moved into management and finally became owner.
Chris estimates Brat to be 15 to 18 years old and says he started showing up at the lodge eight or nine years ago. Brat was easy to identify because of his mangled left ear and the fact that he is a “big bull elk with an attitude.”
Brat discovered wooden bird feeders. He learned how to enjoy the food, but, in the process, would absolutely destroy the feeders. There are more than 20 feeders scattered around the 16-unit resort. Eventually Chris had a feeder designed of sturdy, Brat-proof materials.
Brat’s schedule at the lodge is fairly routine. He is friends with the dogs and personnel of the lodge and spends his days lying in the yard or foraging in the forests nearby on McGregor Mountain. If a guest seems to be too interested in him, he simply ambles into the forest.
At the normal time for employees to replenish the feeders or if they become empty too soon, Brat will stand in front of the equipment shed where the birdfeed is stored until the feeders are restocked.
Brat seems to permit a few other male elks to visit him at the lodge, and in the spring, many cows and their calves venture into town to forage on almost anything green. The elk and townspeople live in an accepted tolerance — the townspeople have little choice. Gardens and trees grow with the help of protective fences. A beautiful golf course surrounding a lake is a favorite grazing area.
“People follow Brat religiously on Facebook,” Chris says, adding both former guests and people planning a trip will look him up. Brat even made his television debut last month on Denver’s local FOX News, appearing in a segment on the best spots to check out Colorado’s elk.
“During the winter months, Brat seldom disappoints and is often set up on the hill side chewing his cud peacefully, or giving a show going from cabin to cabin to get his fill of birdseed,” Chris says. “We generally see him from October, after his rut, until mid-May, when he moves with other wildlife into the park to begin collecting yet another harem.”
Ray Speckman can be found wondering what would happen if Brat had gotten his entire rack into his car or at firstname.lastname@example.org.