Yellowstone Bears Fattening Up For Winter Have 3-Hour Fight Over Food

At this time of year, bears get very territorial over food sources as they are preparing for hibernation. Earlier this week, three grizzlies in Yellowstone got into a three-hour food fight of sorts, as they battled over a the carcass of a bull elk.

Mark Heinz

October 05, 20234 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It was a real wildlife rumble in Yellowstone National Park this week when three grizzly bears fought over the carcass of a bull elk that had been killed in a battle to the death with another bull.

Aspiring wildlife filmmaker Josh Bruni was lucky enough to be there to catch more than three hours of footage of the grizzlies fighting with each other and feasting on the fallen elk on Wednesday.

“It was kind of a ‘king of the hill’ moment,” Bruni, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

Bull’s Death Leaves A Feast For Bears

It’s a busy, and frequently dangerous, time of year for Yellowstone’s biggest critters.

Elk have been going through the rut, or mating season.

During the rut, bulls will clash for mating rights with female elk. The fights frequently turn violent, sometimes even deadly.

That was the case for a bull elk recently in the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone, Bruni said. A fight with another bull turned into a struggle to the death, and he lost.

“He got gored by the other bull and bled out,” Juri said.  

Meanwhile, grizzlies are going through hyperphagia. That means they’re eating and drinking as much as they can to pack on pounds before going into winter hibernation.

So, it didn’t take long for a grizzly to turn the bull’s misfortune into a bear’s feast.

“That large, dark-colored grizzly you see in the video has been claiming that elk carcass for over a week now,” Bruni said.

Watch on YouTube

Shoving And Stuffing Faces

The tides turned again early Wednesday when first one, then another grizzly showed up. And they weren’t about to let the first bear hog all the spoils.

A light-colored bear was the boldest of the newcomers. It charged the first bear and rattled it enough to scare it off of the carcass — at least for a while.

It then turned into a rotating round of hogging and shoving, Bruni said.  

One clip of Bruni’s footage shows two of the bears going up on their hind legs and pushing each other while growling. One of the combatants finally backs down, and the winner turns and gallops back toward the stinky smorgasbord of elk remains.

That’s how it went most of the morning, as the bears alternated between stuffing their faces and deciding who was boss, Bruni said. The contests got heated at times, but never truly violent – there was no flying fur or bloodshed.

“It never got to the point of them trying to kill each other,” he said. “Whatever grizzly was on the carcass at any given time would be trying to shove the other two grizzlies away.”

The light-colored bear finally ate its fill and wandered off, as did the third grizzly, he said. The darker-colored bear that had been there first dragged the elk’s head up a hill for dessert.

“I would say it was pretty evenly split (between the grizzlies). They all got a piece of the pie,” Bruni said.

‘The More Fantastic Things I See’

Bruni is establishing a professional career in wildlife filmmaking. He’s one of just a few students in Montana State University’s graduate natural history filmmaking program.

He hopes to market his prime footage of the grizzly tussle and other amazing wildlife moments he’s captured in Yellowstone to major outlets such as National Geographic.

He’s in the park about three times a week, and there’s never any shortage of natural wonders to document.

“The more I’m out there filming, the more fantastic things I see,” Bruni said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter