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Insanelupus, lets talk elk.


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gselkhunter

I don't get to do this like I used to. Doing 15 to 20 seminars on elk and elk hunting a year kept me working hard because you never know who is going to be in the crowd.

Elk basics first then we can target your real questions.

Elk were plains and forest animals until we tried to kill them all off. Because of that, they became the mountain animal they are today. Slowly the numbers have grown and they are starting to spill back out on to the plains. There were 4 subspecies in the US, Eastern, Rocky mountain, Roosevelt and Tule. There was one in Canada [Manitoban], that has been split into two now and for the life of me I can't spit out the other one.

I think the idea of range is pretty well understood by most, you have summer and winter ranges and then of course the Migration routes.

But the real meat of elk hunting doesn’t come from the hunting books it comes from understand the animal and its needs to survive. First is how much they eat and what they eat. An adult elk will eat 20-25grams of food per kilo of body weight per day. And they don’t just eat grass; there are many other food sources they consume to make up their dietary needs. And the bulls and cows don’t have the same needs in food. And this is the reason you find them in different places all summer.

Any way this is just a taste of what I will lay out for you guys. Feel free to put in questions and to comment about anything and I will answer them the best I can.

Places I plan to head with this, Food and water needs; eyes, ears and noses; cover and thermal needs; antler growth and photoperiodism[length of day and how it effects elk]; rut and vocalism. Hope this will be civil and enjoyable for all

Gselkhunter

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insanelupus

Now you've done it!!  You've awoken the proverbial 7 year old that lives within me that is constantly at  your heels asking questions!!

Seriously, thank you.  This will be pretty cool and I'm looking forward to your installments.  Each year elk hunting I've learned more and more.  I've read tons of books an honestly, few were as helpful as I hoped.  The book that has really stood out is by Sam Curtis called "The Complete Book of Elk Hunting: Tips and Tactics for All Weather and Habitat Conditions".  It covered many things well, especially for those of us that live in areas where the concentration numbers are lower than other elk hunting states, as well as thick timber.  

I did not realize that cows and bulls ate different food.  That is quite interesting and if you have the names of some specific plants folks can be on the look out for (for both cows and bulls) I can look them up and learn how to identify them.  

One of my favorite tactics (and I realize it is, percentage wise, probably the most difficult way to kill bulls) is to still hunt.  Any tactics and tips you have in this regard would be very appreciated.  

Any tidbits & tips that you have that seem to be missed by the books, magazines, seminars, etc., (many of which become somewhat boring and repitious) would be great.  I know when I'm just sitting around bsing with folks that have elk hunted hard for many years, I enjoy all the little stuff they tend to do that most folks miss when talking to beginners.  You know, the little things they make sure they do, either conciously or out of habit, that they believe helps them fill tags.  

I'll try not to be too bothersome with my questions, but I'm definately looking forward to your posts.  Thank you.

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gselkhunter

Glad to hear it, because I love talking elk. I too used to read all the hunting stuff, but elk management/ biology books are what sent me to a new level.

Feed; both cows and bulls come out of winter on deaths doorstep. Even though they feed more the food has less to offer. Then the cycle starts again come spring. The bulls will head up before the cows, because of the protein and minerals needs to rebuild body and antler growth are at higher elevations. Also the forest is thinner so they don’t bang the new antler growth that isn’t hardened and causes them pain. So to feed voraciously on the proper plants to build body and antlers is an all day chore. The bulls will stay in small bachelor groups to watch for predators, because they are vulnerable out in the open.

 The cows hit riparian areas that produce the plant life that makes milk for the calves. Also the cover lower is better for safety of the newborns. The idea that elk only eat grass is a misnomer. The rich alpine tundra [above timberline] provides minerals and proteins that build bodies and antler growth, perfect for bulls. The lower plant life, which include broadleaf plants [elderberry is one] are rich in the fats needed to produce quality milk. The cows will gorge themselves to make enough milk and to restore their own bodies from winter’s death grip. Once the calves are weaned, the cows and calves roam seeking the richest plant life. Many will wind up above timberline feeding on the rich alpine tundra also.

Water is a key to finding elk any time of the year, not only do they need water to sustain life. It is also used as a thermal regulator. The elks hide is really built to keep them warm in winter, so over heating in summer is real. Elk tend to stay close to water or snowfields to help keep them cool. The other thing that plays into thermal regulation is slope and canapé cover. Optimum canapé cover is 60% sunlight blocked out on a fairly steep slope for convection currents. Even though the elk tend to find benches so they don’t have lay down on the steep slopes. The steep hillside provides air motion to help cool them and detour insects. And this entire process of massive summer feed to get them ready for the next winter and for the rut.

I will put together a list of favored plants for you guys.

Gselkhunter

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A possibility of a trip to Chama, NM next year has me sitting here in the corner listening to your every word.

Teach on, Master

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insanelupus

Ohhhhhhhhh this is a fun class!!

In this part of Montana that I live in, it is extremely rare you ever find any above timberline elevations  For example, whle downloading info off of USAPhotoMaps (thanks by the way to John, for old posts on this and getting me started down the road of reviewing maps like I'm making an invasion!!), most of our elevated peaks only reach up to about 7500 feet.  Certainly timber is much thinner up there but it is still existant.  

I had always wondered why I saw elk cows and calves down so low in early summer, June time period.  Now it makes sense, riparian areas with broadleaf type plants for milk production.  After the calves are weaned, then they apparently go back up the mountain. Interesting, very interesting.  

I'm enjyoing this, in my mind, there is no more majestic animal that defines mountains than the mighty elk.

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gselkhunter

Lets hit one of the keys of elk behavior, photo-periodism. What this means is amount of light that strikes the retina of the eye. So what does this have to do with elk, good question. The answer isn’t goes like this bulls drop their antlers in Jan./Feb depending on their age. The older bulls will drop first then the younger bulls and at this point the day light is short in duration. As the days lengthen the light hits the retina for longer time and when it gets long enough hormones are released and the pedicles starts to grow and the antler growth begins. Also when days get long enough cows start to lactate getting ready for the birthing process. Even though the antlers are growing photo-periodism will strike again and trigger the release of more hormones and there will be a shift from body rebuilding to real antler growth. 60% of antler growth is produced in the last 30days of antler production. Antler production is complete around August 15 and the velvet is rubbed off. There is however more, at the on set of shortening day light more hormones are released and the bulls start making sperm counts grow. And the cows hormones start getting them ready to be bred. This is where it gets fun. The bulls get very agitated and start fighting for dominance and split up because of the over flow of hormones. The cows get antsy and start moving to the breeding areas, as well as the bulls will start to move that way.

A little preface here, cows normally have 3 cycles to get bred the first is around August 25th and the usual time between cycles if not bred is 21 days. In many cases the bulls and cows are not together yet, but the bulls can smell the hormones and it leads them to the cows. Like wise the bulls bugle to advertise they are in the area. [side note, there are many different types of bugles, but I will cover that later.] So now you have both together and it is the cow that picks the bull that will breed her. So between the cows looking for mister right [not done by their bugle but by sight of that big boy] and the bulls trying to build a harem and things get heated. The cows aren’t ready to be bred and the bulls are ready to breed, the frustration comes to a head. Bulls are screaming and will attack other bulls to keep their harem in tacked. The big boys have their harems and the younger bulls are the ones trying to steal [satellite bulls] the cows. Oh boy what fun, I love being in the middle of this display. And all this because of a little sun light. There are many guys who will tell you it doesn’t happen like this, sorry they are wrong. Many guys will tell you the bulls won’t bugle this early, wrong again. But here is an important piece in this game, HEAT, temperature plays a very important role. If the days are too warm [going back to the piece of their coat is built for keeping them warm] the bulls won’t bugle during the day, they will bugle in the coolest part of the night. Remember in Sept their coats are changing for winter too, photo-periodism. If they bugle too much in the warm temps their thyroid gland will swell up and can kill them. The two other things that halt bugling during hunting times, full moons and hunting pressure, both will cause the elk to go nocturnal. Couple of quick points, even though bugling can go way into Oct, the big bulls are in seclusion because they have spent all the energy they can afford to. They must rebuild the loss of up to 40% of their body weight from rutting. Second point, the herds are getting ready to move to wintering grounds.

Gselkhunter

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insanelupus
Very informative.  I did not realize they could loose up to 40% of their body weight during the rut.  Keep 'em coming!
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gselkhunter

I'm glad you guys like this stuff. I know it isn't run of the mill hunting stuff, but understanding them and being with them every weekend for 15yrs, then I got married again. All the time a field has given me some insight into the minds of elk. Of course it was my job also working with Hunter's Specialties, labor of love though. My main study guide: Elk of North America Ecology and Management; A Wildlife Management Institute Book Compiled by Jack Ward Thomas and Dale E. Toweill.

Eyes, elk don't have super power vision like sheep and pronghorn, but never under estimate what they can pick up with that black and white vision that ranges 260 degrees you  have to sit on their back to not be spotted if you are moving at all. The interesting part is the type of motion the brain picks up, the very slow gentle flowing motion doesn't seem to affect elk. This is logical because the forest is moving all the time. But any quick motion is picked up right now and is judged to be a predator until identified. Although the herd will be alerted right now and this is done in different ways. The most recognized way is the bark, a vocalization that sounds almost like a dog, hence its name. It very loud and alarms the entire herd that trouble is here now. Generally the bark will be pointed in the direction of trouble, so all the elk will look in that area for the trouble. Side note; in a herd of cows and calves, the calves will move into the middle of the herd at a bark. This is one of the anti-predator strategies used by elk, called mobbing behavior. It puts the strongest animals out to fight for the herd. Once the danger is identified the lead cow decides on course of action, run or fight. Bulls follow the same general pattern.  

Trick here, if you stand on a timbered hill side, look down the hill and you will be able to see a long ways depending on how steep the hill is. But turn and look up, you won’t see far, animals know to use this. Another trick [use at your own risk], you have an elk in close and your bow is pointed the wrong way, while the elk is moving,  slowly turn to get your shot. Elk don’t detect subtle motion well when they are moving, but if it is quick like a predator they are gone. More later.

Gselkhunter

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Gregg,

Your knowledge and being a great teacher are sparking my interest in elk hunting again.

I think what I'll do if I'm here next fall is pick up a bull tag for area 2 and drive the rut roads glassing with Tom D.

As the years go by his style of hunting is appealing to me.  :)

I'll see if I can get him to join us at the next shoot.

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gselkhunter

Elk ears are very capable of picking up sound; they look like little radar stations. If you see elk at rest the ears are always moving. It isn’t hard to tell where the sound is coming from by where their ears are pointed. And they do hear better than we do.

But the real cause of us loosing to these majestic creatures of the mountain is their sense of smell. We smell in parts per ten thousand, elk smell in parts per million. To give you an idea if you can smell bacon cooking from 100yds, the elk can smell it 10,000yds away. And they can tell how far away you are when they get a whiff of your sent.

So how does this info help you?  Elk have a comfort zone; if you are so far away it doesn’t bother them that you are there. What is that distance? I have seen it as close as 50yds and as far away as 500yds; it all depends on the situation. I have had elk let me walk by at twenty yards and sneak out. I have been scented at 100yds yards and hade the elk tear the forest apart getting away from me. The best way I can explain this is if they see you and you don’t act like a predator they seem to be OK. They watch you like a hawk and may sneak away. Or if they hear you and then see you and don’t fell threatened they seem OK. But if they get a good whiff of you, BYE. Time of year, type of cover, what escape routs they have all play a part in this. It is one of those things you learn over time. Your best situation is to find them before they find you. Keep your scent to a minimum.

Lets play a game! You have yourself at 10,500’ trees are thinning out as you go up. You have two bulls above you and one below you. The bull below is off to your right and you judge him to be 150yds away, but he is a 5pt and you don’t want him. The two above you, 1 right of you, 1 directly above you, but you don’t know which one is which. You saw them earlier above timberline, 1 the 6pt you want [has cows] the other a 6pt you don’t want [doesn’t have cows], distance unknown. The wind is coming down the mountain from right to left and you can smell elk. Time 8:30am, last bugle you heard 10mins ago. Your move.

Gselkhunter

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insanelupus

Gregg,

My move?  I'd probably be thrilled with the 5 point and leave the mountain smiling.  But then that isn't the point of your exercise.  

I'm not 100% sure about the bull below (he's below and to the riight, the bulls above are straight up and to the right, I am assuming you mean in a diagonal line.  With 150 yards below and I assume some distance for the bulls above.  My move, would probably be to either try to stay put momentarily to see what things are going to do.  If it seems the bull below will wind me, I may very well try to go forward (to the left of the bulls above me) and get ahead of the heard, slowly, and hopefully stay downwind momentarily of the herd.  The problem is before long at 830AM thermals will start working their way up the hill.  

Initially I was going to go back to the right and stay behind and downwind of the herd, but the bull below (again a little confused where he was) would smell me in that case.  

I could very easily have screwed that one up though.

By the way, loving this stuff.

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gselkhunter

Before I jump back in here, anybody else?

And good news, I spoke with Paul Medel AKA Elknut. I asked Paul if he would mind if I put him in here and he said OK

Paul makes a line of calling DVDs. Paul is a master of elk language. He teaches what elk will do and say in situations. He is very good, please give a look at his website.

http://elknut.com/

I will responed after I have dinner.

Gselkhunter

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gselkhunter

First off I am baiting you. There is a lot of info I didn’t give you. How steep is the slope, temp, clear or over cast, how much wind, how much bugling and which elk are bugling, how many cows. Lots of holes and I am not going to fill them in. This game is a crap shoot anyway. As I was putting this down I came up with 4 ways to attack this. Safe, moderate, aggressive and extreme.

Safe: Go to the left fast before the wind changes and get above the elk and let them bed for the day and go after them when they come out at dusk. You won’t blow any of the elk out and you will have a chance at the big bull. But know he will be the last one out of the trees, unless one of the other bulls pushes the issue for you. Cow calling is the safe way to locate the herd as they move towards tree line, so you can move in.

Moderate: Go left and move slowly up the hill glassing the timber as you go. Call sparingly with mostly cow calls to locate the elk. Both bulls should bugle, but the bull you don’t want should come in. Avoid him and make your way to the cows and the bull you want. Then bugle and make your way as close as you can to the cows. Keep your eyes open because everybody will be watching for you. When you get close to the cow bugle and the old boy should come after you. Down side the old bull pushes his cows over the ridge and is gone, leaving you with the bulls you don’t want.

Aggressive: Swing right and let the 5pt wind you. When he leaves, bugle as hard as you can and take his place. Head up the hill like you are trying to circle the herd to gain the wind and steal cows. Bugle every time the bull does and make sure you cut him off, this is a big insult. He should come to put you in your place. If you can bugle nasty enough the cows will come to you and that will make him really mad.

Extreme: Grab a log and start beating trees, bugle hard and growly. When you get answers cut them all off and head straight up the hill. Bugle and cow call to get the bulls and the cows talking. With all the talking you will know where the bull you want is. You will have to go fast, but make sure you see the animals in the timber or you will blow the deal. And you don’t have much time because the wind won’t be in your favor for long. When you see the first cow, cow call then let out the bugle of your life. As nasty as you can make it, for the object is to make a challenge he must take on or loose his cows to you. He will come, but you better be ready because he isn’t coming to be nice.

There are four game plans; I like extreme, but things will have to be perfect to make it happen. I have done this many times and had nice bulls at 30yds or less, but it happened so fast I had no shot through the timber and had to let them walk away. But did I have fun watching a big bull go nuts. With the moderate or aggressive more times than not the bull you don’t want or cows keep you from getting to the bull you do want. And the safe mode is way to slow for me, I can’t handle it. The most productive way to play this is kill the 5pt or one of the cows. It just isn’t as much fun as making the big boy mad.

Gselkhunter

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