New study shows elk move into Yellowstone Park or unaccessible private lands.

Elk in Yellowstone © Ken Cole

We’ve all witnessed, or heard the stories about, how elk move to areas with less access or are closed to hunting, well this study basically demonstrates this. They do it more so in reaction to hunters than wolves.

Study: Elk more likely to flee from humans than wolves

If you have a subscription to the Journal of Wildlife Management you can read the study here.

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Ken Cole

Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

17 Responses to Study: Elk more likely to flee from humans than wolves

  1. Virginia says:

    I cannot wait to read the responses to this article from all of our elk hunters!

  2. Elk275 says:

    I read this article several hours ago in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and it has taken until noon to to post on this forum — someone slipped up.

  3. Save bears says:

    It has already been being discussed on another thread, my only question is, I am interested in which hunting season they are talking about, in Montana, there are two hunting seasons, they have a bow season and they have a general gun season, and I know from a fact, Elk disperse completely different during bow season than they do during gun season..during bow season, you have less hunters in the field and by virtue of the bow hunting, you have to get close and even mingle with a heard, during gun season, you have far more hunters in the field a lot more noise and elk will seek out areas they can’t be hunted.

    If we are going to compare hunters to wolves, it needs to be done with and apples to apples approach, wolves don’t make a lot of noise, gun hunters do make a lot of noise…

    • WM says:


      Good question. It would be nice to see a copy of the study reoprt, not just some summary of it.
      Does anyone have access to the full report and can post it?

  4. mikepost says:

    Here is a related project that among many other things, monitors the reactions of elk to the different types of hunting pressure.

  5. Layton says:

    Just for you Virginia,

    I posted this on the other thread about hunters moving elk more than wolves do.

    “A team of scientists from Montana State University found that elk moved dramatically as soon as hunting season opened, heading to private ranches or Yellowstone National Park, where hunting is not allowed. Meanwhile, the elk made only modest adjustments to their behavior when wolves were close by.”

    Now I know that I’m not a “peer” when it comes to these super scientific studies, and I’m pretty sure that, being one of the few “dissenters” on this blog, my “peer review” won’t count much, but I’d like to try and make a point here anyway.

    The study references the “opening of hunting season” and compares it to wolves being “close by”. Then, in the paragraph the JB quotes, it says:

    ” One pack of 9 wolves used the study area during winter 2005–2006 and one pack of 6 wolves used the study area during winter 2006–2007.”

    I would just like to point out that comparing “the opening of hunting season” with literally thousands of hunters and the associated number of RV’s, ATV’s, noise, traffic and just the general disturbance caused by this event, is surely not a realistic comparison with a pack of wolves coming around with 6 or 9 wolves in it.

    Am I just being to simplistic??

  6. Si'vet says:

    Virginia, The article makes perfect sense, elk learn as do all animals, through repetition it becomes habitat. Elk know that they can run and in some cases to a specific area and be in a safe enviroment from humans. They are also learning that with wolves there really is no safe place to run, they are around them 24/7, so dispite there constant presence they still have to eat, drink and sleep. I think there could have been some grant money saved, if someone would have taken a few minutes and watched the animal planet program on African plains animals.

  7. jburnham says:

    The idea that game animals move to avoid hunters is nothing new. I don’t think this really tells us much about elk or wolves other than the obvious: that elk have different strategies for dealing with humans vs. wolves.

    In one of Scott Creel’s talks at UM last year, said that while he was in the field researching elk vigilance, elk would gather near people as refuge from the wolves. Wolves being more wary of people than elk. I haven’t found this published anywhere, but it’s an interesting observation, and paints a more complex picture than this article.

    • WM says:


      “elk would gather near people as refuge from wolves”

      This was an important issue associated with Colorado Rocky Mountain National Park’s decision regarding reintroductions of wolves there. They brought in Bangs, and some folks from Banff, Canada who have their own wolf-elk interaction issues, where the elk come into town in winter to avoid the wolves. This was a factor, along with RMNP’s small size, and less than enthusiastic support from the Town of Estes Park that resulted in a formal decision of the NPS not to reintroduce, in January 2008 (I think).

      Some elk also moved into Yellowstone NP HQ at Mammoth Hot Springs to avoid wolves last year. There was an article about Doug Smith (chief YNP wolf biologist) having to shoot off some cracker shells to get the elk out of the area. The next step was rubber bullets on elk and/or wolves to keep them away from employee housing. Don’t know what has happened since.

    • jburnham says:

      Elk have been hanging out at Mammoth long before wolves were brought back. As I understand it, being in Mammoth hasn’t stopped wolves from denning within 1/2 mile, and making kills inside the town. Of course, there’s no reason for wolves in Yellowstone to be wary of people. And we know the elk that spend time in Mammoth aren’t afraid of people.

    • JEFF E says:

      elk have been hanging out in mammoth for as long as I have been going to the park, 45+ years, and probably longer

    • WM says:

      You know thiis, apparently better than I, but it is worth reproducing, in part. I also recall from another article, a quote from an NPS representative, the elk seemed to be lingering more in the immediate vicinity of buildings and people for the obvious reason.

      From Billings Gazette 5/2/09 (Bret French):

      Wolf Pack Moves to Park HQ

      “The sound of howling wolves and wolf sightings are becoming regular occurrences at Yellowstone National Park’s headquarters in Mammoth, Wyo. The wolves have even made nighttime elk kills in the backyards of park employee housing.

      This spring, a pack of wolves conditioned to humans has moved from the park’s interior to near its Northeast Entrance, just south of Gardiner

      The pack of four wolves – three black males and one gray female – have denned just a quarter-mile east of Mammoth. As a result, wolves have been spotted around the small community – the same place the U.S. Army set up shop in 1891 to protect the park. The town includes the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, a visitor center, shops, government offices and employee housing.

      “We’re trying to educate the public to not get too close,” Smith said, because if the wolves become too used to humans, they’ll have to be killed.

      “We try to give them the protection they need. But when they get into Mammoth, we’re trying to show them they are not welcome here.”

      So, Smith is tied to his cell phone, on constant alert for a call that the wolves have been sighted in the Mammoth area. When they are, he hopes to remind them that humans can be dangerous.

      “We paintballed them in late January,” he said, which acted as a deterrent. “But I’ve not gotten into them yet with what I call the heavy artillery – bean bags and rubber bullets. But I am itching to do that because they need a lesson.”

  8. Save bears says:

    I have to say, as a biologist, I am not real impressed with the summary I have read so far, I don’t have full access to the complete study right now, and I won’t pay to gain access, but I have wrote a few letters today to see if I can gain access to the full study documents…

  9. Jay Barr says:

    Perhaps what is to be “learned” from this study is that elk pregnancy rates, condition going into winter, etc. (all of which are trumpeted by anti-wolf crowd as reasons elk are being “decimated” by wolves) may be as much, or more, influenced by hunters in the field in mass quantities as it is to wolf presence. Granted the wolves are out there all of the time. But they are not hunting 24/7 and they could only affect a tiny proportion of the elk within their territory at any given time and for short duration.

  10. pointswest says:

    I’d say that it is all about numbers when it comes to “spooking” elk. You would need to compare one wolf pack to one hunter. There might be a few hunters that hunt in pairs or in threes but most hunt alone. With 800 wolves in Idaho and with an average pack size of 7, there should be 114 packs in Idaho. There may be a few lone wolves so all the wolves in Idaho would be the equivalent of maybe 150 hunters in round numbers. I wished there were that few hunters. Everyone knows elk are spooked after opening day anywhere there are hunters.

    One major difference is that hunters are much easier to manage than wolves. If a heard ever gets into population trouble, the hunters can be called off.


April 2010


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