Veteran Hunter’s Take on MT Elk Season

Carter Niemeyer talks about the Montana elk hunt-

He is a long time elk hunter and former federal wolf recovery coordinator for Idaho. He worked in Montana for most of his career (Wildlife Services)

Veteran Hunter’s Take on MT Elk Season. Public News Service.



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  1. jon Avatar

    Good post Ralph. Wolves are no excuse to fail at hunting. Carter has got it right.

    1. Cobra Avatar

      What he didn’t mention was that when wolves howl the elk WERE around. I’ve seen them run 2 or 3 drainages away and into the thickest holes around. Yea, they may not be eating all the elk but they sure change the way you need to hunt and the ground you have to cover.
      Having never hunted elk or been out west in elk and wolf country how would you know whether he has it right or not.

      1. JimT Avatar

        Haven’t you heard? Change is good..also inevitable. :*)

  2. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Cobra, it would make sense that wolves would be in areas where there are elk. He also mentions that a true sportsman should be out walking and looking for elk. Seems to me that you could try and follow the elk that you see running or that by doing a little exploring you might be able to find some that have hidden in other areas. And yes, I have hunted elk before.

    1. ID_Paul Avatar

      “…follow the elk that you see running …”

      That made me laugh.

    2. WM Avatar

      There is a huge difference between “hunting” elk and being successful in that endeavor, as on average 4 out of 5 hunters are not. I think the average is even less when one counts only those who seek bulls (something like 13 – 17 % in areas). Who knows how the average will change in the long term presence of wolves? We do know some game management units, ID in particular, have had adjustments in harvest quotas (especially cows) and season length with the presence of wolves.

      “…follow the elk you see running…” is usually the approach of an unsuccessful hunter. As for wolves in a predator response setting, I cannot say.

      1. JB Avatar


        I keep seeing these stats about success rates thrown around. The numbers I’ve seen people use range from ~15 to 30% depending upon time/place. Yet, we know that these aggregated numbers hide other trends. What are the success rates of guided hunts? How does long-term knowledge of an area affect success? What about hunting tactics/practices?

        Hunters are a very diverse group, and my *guess* is that success varies substantially based upon these (and many other factors). Assuming this is true, it leads me to wonder if wolves’ effect on success differs between these groups–that is, if the effect of wolves on hunter success is moderated by knowledge, yrs of participation, tactics, etc.?

      2. Cobra Avatar

        You know nothing. How many wolves have you seen in elk country. I turn tail from nothing except ignorance. Spend some time in the woods before you make any judgments. Anytime you feel like hiking around and really see what’s going let me know. There are things I’ve seen that are almost unbelievable to me but I’ve seen them and cherish what I’ve seen. Good Day.

    3. Cobra Avatar

      Just so you know I’ve had over a 90% success rate since I was 14 years old and that was over 35 years ago. I was not bitching about elk hunting with wolves around, I was stating fact. Elk hunting has changed and to hunters that are new to the sport or others who can’t or won’t get out and get after it I can see how they could be disgruntled about the way things have changed since the wolves were brought in. Sure is funny how many elk hunting experts there are on this site at times. I keep tabs on the elk herds that frequent my property along with wolves at least once a week and I have seen lots of changes good and bad in the way the elk behave when the wolf pack is nearby versus when they are not.

  3. Craig Avatar

    Jon, again you talk of things you have no experience with! This makes your posts mute at best!

    1. mikarooni Avatar

      Craig, I believe you mean “moot” in this case. Jon is certainly not “mute” in his posts. He’s actually very communicative.

      1. JimT Avatar

        Everyone in their lives have opined on subjects, occupations, and experiences here with which they have no personal connection, including people here. It is just a red herring remark to denigrate someone’s opinion…like the nativist only thing…

        Mikarooni….good one!! LOL…

  4. Jeff Wegerson Avatar
    Jeff Wegerson

    I have never hunted elk or actually seriously ever anything. But this discussion causes two things to come to mind for enlightenment.

    I have the impression that our co-evolution with dogs may have had a hunting basis. So could there be a potential for some synergy between wolves and humans when hunting elk?

    And two I have the impression that wolves tend to cull the weaker potentially sicker elk, and since humans would prefer the healthier elk especially say without some kind of wasting disease like mad cow, wouldn’t’ wolves be a big plus for hunters in that respect as well?

    1. Jeff Avatar

      I know the impression is that hunters take the big bulls and the strongest in the herd—ultimaltely I think very few hunters fall into this category. Out of state high dollar clients and their guides definetly go for big bulls, but the majority of hunters I know and hunt with in Teton County, Wyoming hunt cows for meat, but really just hunt opportunistically for the first legal animal that presents itself. As Robert said hunting has been challenging this fall with the sparse snow and warm temps, that said I shot a cow on my second day out. They are around you just have to get off the trail and hunt.

  5. Jon Way Avatar

    It is hard to take David Allen seriously when this comes from RMEF:
    The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation predicts the state elk hunter “success rate” will hit 22 percent this season – Montana has the second-highest number of elk in the country, next to Colorado.

    Then he claims that wolves have decimated all of the elk in the Northern Rockies. He sounds like a politician, running from both sides of his mouth…

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    In western Wyoming–wolf country–elk success rates for hunters run around 30%, give or take a few points each year depending primarily on the weather (e.g., snow that drives elk down out of the backcountry). That’s what it’s been for as long as I’ve been here, which is 18 years. Wolves have been in the Upper Wind River Valley since 1996.

    Friends and acquaintances of mine both on and off the Reservation who’ve already been hunting have taken an elk. The local game warden, when I saw him last week at the local general store, told me people are killing elk like crazy. He looked tired.

    I’ve not been yet; I like to hunt late when it’s cold and there’s lots of snow on the ground. It’s getting that way; we had our first winter storm two days ago. It’s a little late.

    Carter’s comments, as usual, are right on the money. Quite frankly, I’ve seen hunters drive elk two or three drainages away in the absence of wolves.


    1. jon Avatar

      Good to know RH. Wolves are no excuse to not be successful. Good luck on your hunt!

    2. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson

      Hunters driving elk 2-3 drainages away one time compounded by doing this ten times …and year after year…and in very little time elk will move completely out of the country.

      Yes, this is hunter impact. Do the same during and after calving by horse and foot users (outfitters and NOLS types in the summer times) and the same impact takes a lot less time to accomplish.

      The Indians knew to let the matriarchal elk and bison herds alone during this period if they wanted to harvest that area later. How can game biologists consider themselves proficient at understanding an areas carrying capacities if they are clueless to what is causing lower numbers of animals in the first place. Duh? Duh?

      1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
        Robert Hoskins

        Well, that’s easy. Blame wolves. Case closed.


      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

        Bob Jackson,

        This is really interesting. It seems that hunters’ fear of wolves can become a self fulfilling prophecy in terms of not shooting, or even seeing an elk!

  7. ID_Paul Avatar

    I’d sure like to hear the whole interview instead of selected clips. Anyone know if it is available?

  8. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I have spent the last two weeks here in Yellowstone photographing wolves and elk. I have been watching elk bugle while wolves were howling and wolves howling while elk were bugling.
    The elk are NOT running when they hear wolves howl. Both wolves and elk seem to be going about their business without much heed of each other.
    The elk can tell when the wolves are on the hunt and pay attention and get ready to run, otherwise they don’t seem to care much about the wolves.
    I saw over a hundred elk migrating near Canyon Village today and photographed six wolves, some of them at very close range. There were several elk very near three large wolf pups this morning and while they were cautious, they did not run twenty miles as some hunters would have you believe.
    Today was a great day for wolf photography, one of the best I have experienced and I have had some great wolf days.

    1. Cobra Avatar

      This is not Yellowstone. Yellowstone is more open country and I’m sure the elk and wolves act differently than they do here. Steep terrain and very thick so elk may be a more on guard here than in areas with less vegetation. Here the wolves seem to use howling as a way to get the elk moving in a certain direction where other pack members will wait in ambush. They’re very clever and I must say it is interesting to watch how the wolves can plan this set up. They are still not always successful with this approach but it must work very well because more times than not this is what we see here.

      1. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson


        Lets say there is a refuge camp of mostly women and children….like they all are. Now lets say there is no one to guard them. So what happens when the rebels come through the barracades and wire for maham? They scream like banchees and the refuges flee, run for cover and scatter.

        Now lets say G&F and every hunter out there is clueless as to understanding what well infrastructured elk herd defenses are. Lets say these males actually play an important role by deflecting those packs away from those women and children. But alas they are all gone because “hunters” with biologists annointment of oil have killed them all … no different than the rebels have killed the males of those human refuge camps.

        So we bring in another predator to finish off what “hunters” have defeated (killed the army of elk) and that banchee scream (howl) scatters the refuge herds of elk. Duh, really PHD thinking huh?

        Now lets say Scarry Larry sees a different behavior in the Parks core. Yes, most of these elk migrate but infrastructure with males is more intact, much more so than those quota biologist areas outside the Park. Lots of bugling (which outside the Park isn’t happening as much because predators …human and animal… are tipped off for location of the only male left…those breeding with the cow calf segments). No outrigger 6 point bulls, no raghorns further out. So the day and night is becoming whisper quiet. But Larry’s herd shows an entirely different behavior….of harmony and bliss…all participants bouncing and s[ringing through wonderland ….. all those elk and wolves. Probably not quite this Sound of Music setting, but it does match up a lot closer to what early explorers described. So who do you think is right on herd animal- prey behavior? Larry or Cobra?

        Both, if one considers Cobras android success at killing for 30 years makes HIS herd as dysfunctional as its state sanctioned wax seal allows for all herds to be. Thus Cobra sees a cause and effect answer known as symptom management and Larry’s herd is a awe and wonder masterpiece where preservation biologists in Yellowstone just marvel at how nature works…without really understanding why.

        I suggest both biologists and ‘hunters” study film of Africa’s refuge camps to find the answers. Maybe see how another herd animal, elephants do it also when they are against the ropes of the ivory trade days. Or study the first account American books if they inclined to be flag patriotic…and see how up to three hundred elk would band together in the winter to ward off wolves. Of coarse these 300 aren’t refuge camps but rather well oiled fighting machines.

        But to tell you the truth in todays so dysfunctional herds is it any higher standard to take a “cow” when you don’t even know what her role is in that refuge camp? that is like saying you took a woman and don’t have a clue that this woman is any different than any other woman in that refuge camp. just shoot and collectively shoot. Chase the refuges from one village to another, drawing bead…till still another refuge goes down. no wonder religous folks pray to god instead of to the animal they killed or to the elk family they left orphaned further. There can be no respect with “hunting” the way it is today. Time to get off the box.

      2. JB Avatar

        Larry et al.- I’ve found this “sub” thread very interesting. I wonder if the differences in behavior witnessed by Larry and Cobra can be attributed to either (a) different levels of experience with wolves between elk, or (b) or the fact that elk outside the park are being simultaneously hunted by wolves and human hunters?

      3. WM Avatar


        I think you will find alot of factors may affect the different observed responses of elk interacting with wolves – when the hunt is on, or off. Full wolves don’t hunt. Hungry ones do, and that can change in an instant. Large groups of elk seem to like to leave their old, injured and some young for the wolves. I’m not buying into Bob’s theories of finely tuned fighting machine elk bulls,….just yet, anyway.

        Cobra mentions different terrain and visibility, which is likely a huge factor. You can’t hide a herd of three hundred or even fifty elk in the same forest thicket that can secretly hold a group of five.

        Human hunters in total, are in the woods, maybe eight to ten weeks in most places (the elk pretty much know this and behavior changes seasonally), with rest periods between short method of take seasons? Wolves are there 24-7-365.

        Migrating elk in larger herds suggest different survival tactics are at play, as opposed to those smaller groups. Actually, Mark Hebblewhite of U of MT has done research on this very topic. Here is one:

        Of course, this is a study done in Banff NP, which is going to be a bit different than landscapes where humans are also hunting, so there are undoubtedly more variables to consider.

        Let’s also consider the fact that behavior between elk and wolves will differ seasonally, and elk may adjust their tactics for energy conservation. Run in summer if you can, and maybe a substantial portion of the calves don’t make it (stats. seem to suggest huge losses). Herd up and it is survival of the fittest in winter – an elk has a tougher time, as we know, in the snow against those big snowshoe paws of the wolf. So, why should all elk try to expend the effort to escape, as long as that individual elk is more fit than the one next to it, guess who gets eaten…..first?

        I will also suggest that the elk may be prone to the risks associated with playing out their mating “dance” out of a genetic need to procreate. So, cows in estrus, and the bulls bugling, sparring, herding, coupling etc., are carried out in the presence of the risk of predation, because survival of the species demands it. Of course, this mating behavior only lasts a few weeks, then it may be back to the other tactics of survival. Of course, others – hunters in particular – say they have observed less bugling and communication sounds, and often running away from perceived predation or human hunter encounters.

        Maybe elk just do use different techniques of avoidance, and some of it based on terrain and vegetative cover, as well as seasonal factors like mating or herding up for winter. Guess there is alot for the ungulate and wolf biologists, and maybe social science guys to study. Yes?

      4. JB Avatar

        Always a lot to study. I’m thinking “Deer of the World” may need to come home with me tonight so I can bone up on the behavioral ecology of elk.

        Re: Running. I know several studies indicate that running seems to be a bad strategy for elk and moose to use to escape wolves (i.e. these animals get taken more often than those that hold their ground). Of course, it could be that sick animals “panic” and run more often?

        My particular interest was that while herding would appear to be a good way for healthy elk to escape wolves, it is a poor tactic for escaping human hunters. We all know that elk behavior changes come hunting season. I wonder if the way the change their behavior to deal with human hunting pressure actually increases their risk of predation to wolves. Also, if they change their behavior to escape humans, does this modification, in turn, alter the way in which they react to wolves/wolf howls (i.e., more easily frightened). One might hypothesize that elk have developed a specialized escape strategy for dealing with human hunters (i.e., run at any sign of a potential predator) that gets generalized to the presence of wolves. If so, wolves might actually benefit from the presence of human hunters.

        Anyway, as I said, I find this discussion interesting.

      5. Jeff N. Avatar
        Jeff N.

        Cobra states that the wolf and elk interact differently in regard to different ecosystems; the open terrain of YNP compared to the very steep and thickly vegetated areas. In thickly vegetated steeper country wolves howl to move elk into an awaiting ambush by other pack members, and Cobra has “seen” this hunting technique used by wolves in this “very steep, very thickly vegetated terrain”. Does this sound like B.S. to anyone else but me? How are you seeing this if the country is so steep and thick? Me thinks Cobra is making sh&t up.

      6. Cobra Avatar

        That is the problem. Because you have not seen it, it doesn’t exist. Terrain is steep and thick but their are places where you can see from ridge to ridge or hill side to hill side. There are many here who have seen this happen not just me. Maybe pull your head out of your ass a little bit and open up your mind and you may learn something. I’ve hunted elk in Colorado and North Idaho and elk in north Idaho are a lot different animal than Colorado. Our elk in North Idaho do not really have the winter migrations like Yellowstone and Colorado. Since moving to Idaho I hunt elk more like whitetail deer. Learn their habits and routines and then find an ambush point and be patient. The years I hunted in western Colorado I would cover way more ground in their migration routes and eventually be successful.
        Seems to me the soap box is mostly yours.

      7. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        I read all the above and say only, “Guys it is not a freak show.”

      8. Jeff N. Avatar
        Jeff N.


        I’m not questioning the methods that wolves use to hunt elk. I’m simply questioning your implied expertise on how elk behave in the presence of wolves in different ecosystem settings. As you pat yourself on the back in regard to your elk hunting prowess, I can only imagine that your x-ray vision must come in handy while out in the thick, steep terrain of nothern Idaho, allowing you to see animal behavior that those of us without these superpowers will never be able to visually experience.

    2. Cobra Avatar

      Not even worth a response.

      1. Jeff N. Avatar
        Jeff N.

        Cobra – Called on his b.s. tucks tail and whimpers off. You see Cobra, it’s not that I don’t believe you are an accomplished elk hunter. I believe you are and I believe you have spent hundreds of hours, if not more, in the woods. I for one do not hunt, but I am not anti-hunter. My comments on this blog have never been anti-hunter and never will be. But your comments on elk behavior in the presence of howling wolves is hyperbole. Your “eyewitness” account, in thick timber and steep terrain, of wolves blowing elk into drainages three ridgelines over simply by howling is pure nonsense. You know it, I know it.

  9. Nancy Avatar

    Thanks Bob, makes sense and forgive me if I’m repeating myself but lets not forget to throw in that lucky outfitter who has a few ranches tied up in one area (that use to be block management) all of which border some sort of state land – forest, BLM etc.

    He scatters his young guides out before dawn (with 2-3 hunters in tow) on the state land, maybe getting a shot at an elk but also pushing the elk down on to the ranches, where they wear themselves out jumping fences, families are split up if the fenceline isn’t beaten down by 50 – 60 bodies, leaving calves behind.

    Meanwhile the outfitter runs up and down the road with his hunters (probably the ones less inclined to get to far from the truck) hoping for a clean, easy shot at those exhausted elk. There are a couple of isolated pieces of property the outfitter hasn’t tied up, where the elk can take refuge and you can often during hunting season, see large groups of them bedded down.

    This is someone’s idea of hunting? (More like shooting fish in a barrel) I guess if your forking out $3-4 grand, you can justify it…………..

    1. WM Avatar

      I have never really thought about exactly how many hunts are with outfitters and guides. Throughout the West, I will venture a WAG of between 10-20 percent, quite possibly less. No doubt the states keep statistics on this, by virtue of licensing of both guides and the hunters that use them.

      Can anyone here offer some good and verifiable information to help us understand whether the rather disgusting scenario Nancy (and Bob Jackson) describes is really very prevalent? Does it vary alot by state?

    2. elk275 Avatar

      State land can not be outfitted or guided, but I could be wrong. I think that this is an isolated situation, most of the guides that I have hunted with were way to lazy to do anything that you wrote about. I could write more but I have to go to work.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Elk – The outfitter I mentioned? This is what he claims on his website under hunting info: We have the exclusive commercial hunting rights to 250,000 acres of National Forest, BLM, Montana State Lands and private property where the elevations range from 5,000 feet up to 11,000 feet.

      2. Save bears Avatar


        If he is claiming exclusive rights to NFS, BLM and State Lands, then he is in violation of the law, nobody has exclusive rights to any public lands in the state of Montana, he may think he does, but he has a big surprise if he tries to enforce his “Exclusive” claims.

      3. elk275 Avatar

        He has “exclusive commerical hunting rights” or guiding rights. Therefore, he is the only outfitter permitted for the national forest and BLM in this 250,000 or so he says. The private property rights are leased and that is another situation. I do not think that state land can be leased for outfitting, I need to find out.

  10. WM Avatar

    Everybody here is talking about MT or WY, so far. ID, has twice the number of wolves of either state (and a more rapidly growing net population). ID has just 2/3 the elk population of MT. So hunting may be a little different in ID. This is my experience.

    I said I would report back on my hunt which began the first week of October. We are four experienced, and in the past very successful, hunters who took two days to scout, and ten days to hunt very hard. We would say we also hunted smart, spending a lot of time in the brush, trying new tactics, and local spots we had not hunted in the recent past. In this area we have hunted for 20+ years, the wolves were there this year. They had moved in within the last three weeks or so, according to locals in the area. One local (whom I tend to believe) said he saw one wolf, and some pretty chewed up ground with four sets of wolf tracks and elk calf prints, the day before we arrived. It seems these particular wolves (as many do) run a circuit within their range, going after the easy elk, them moving on to return later. When the elk are reduced in numbers or become more adept at avoiding them, the wolves repeat the process in a new area where elk are less wary, and more numerous. They, or individual members of a pack, often return to the same areas visited before (how frequent I cannot say, but maybe the experts can tell us with their telemetry data). Pretty logical if you think about the way they seem to do it, being territorial and all.

    Lots of fresh wolf crap on the old overgrown logging road we travel up to camp; I coul hardly believe eight new piles of it in less than three miles –some full of undigested elk hair. Yeah, I checked closely being careful not to sniff the stuff. Couln’t smell the pee from territorial high marking, but no doubt it was there. Wolf tracks of varying sizes (all larger than coyote) in the mud, clearly visible as it had rained just two or three days before. Some fresh elk tracks too, so optimism was mixed with initial disappointment about wolf presence. I have sarcastically referred to the area in the past as “Wolf Central” because of its proximity to the Lolo and how quickly the wolf quota was taken in this wolf management unit during the ID wolf hunt last year. I was concerned about what I would find during elk season this year.

    We put up a fixed camp, as we always do, that takes the better part of a day to set up – wall tent, stove and wood to gather, so we can’t just move to an entirely new area very easy. We committed to stay for this year, because we had little choice. In total I saw three elk in 12 days of substantial and focused effort, and my hunting partners a few more elk, approximately a half dozen each. That is very, very few for the time spent in the woods for four hunters. We are accustomed to seeing as many as twenty to forty elk, or more, each during this time of year, usually elk in groups no larger than 3-5. This time, we could hear them, but not see them. The elk don’t herd up here and never have, and their group numbers were now down to just 2-3 at most, with single animals more often traveling alone, according to members of our group and others with whom we spoke. There are different elk depredation survival theories of whether it is better to be alone or in larger groups of elk. Guess these chose the former.

    I enjoy just seeing elk – any elk- as it is all part of the enjoyment of the hunting experience for me. This was the worst elk viewing trip in all the years we have hunted here, except two years ago when wolves were first present and audible, howling in the same drainage. We told then IDFG wolf program coordinator Steve Nadeau the wolves were there, but he didn’t believe us. In fact, I had to repeat the story to him twice. We saw four wolves in 2008. The next year, their wolf range map in their annual report to FWS had several overlapping zones for different packs in that area, confirming their collared wolves had data showing their presence (I guess Nadeau had not yet seen the data). As I said at the start, I have hunted this area for over twenty years, and one person in our group has hunted here for 30 years. Huge change for viewing, and not for the better!

    Nothing else has changed (logging and fire have kept the habitat pretty constant for food and cover, and except a couple of bad snow years the weather has not resulted in large natural elk mortality. Two years ago we saw some evidence of wolves getting their share as evidenced by calf carcasses on the landscape not obeserved before and we have not seen bears or cougar here either) except the presence of wolves. Oh, there was one important difference this year: The season opening coincided with a new moon. For the last several years there has been a 3/4 moon or better – waxing or waning the first five days of season. No moonlight, this year, overcast skies and some rain, for the first couple of days. This should have been a huge hunter advantage, because without moonlight elk/deer cannot easily feed at night, usually providing more opportunity to see them feeding or moving in early morning or at dusk. The rain also makes things more quiet.

    Conditions could not have been better for seeing more elk.

    The third elk I saw on the seventh day of our hunt was a brush rack 5 point, traveling alone, in deep timber on steep ground. Yes, I got my elk. It was difficult getting the meat out of this very steep timbered and rocky terrain, with lots of downed cris-cross trees in the understory, and not an experience I soon wish to repeat.

    We saw no wolves. Just poop and tracks. One day I went up an old abandoned grade about a half mile, then went bushwhacking down some old game trails for a couple of hours. When I came back up the hill I intercepted the grade again at a point where I had been only hours before, and there was a fresh pile of wolf crap, still steaming.

    I should mention, I reported my elk kill on the mandatory form as IDFG requires. That will show in the data as a SUMMARY statistic in some report. What won’t show is the fact that I saw only three elk in 12 days, or that I am a very experienced hunter.

    This is my story with 800+ wolves in the state of ID in 2010. Maybe there will be 900-1,000 wolves in ID next year, without some number control, especially in certain areas. What will elk hunting be like with twice that number of wolves in a couple of years, and maybe the ones in my area making their circuit more often, because wolf density will be higher?

    I have mixed feelings this year, and I am happy, maybe even just lucky, to have gotten my elk. I don’t mind some wolves, but I like to see elk, too. So where is the balance for the near future with wolves listed under the ESA?

    [ jon- with this report, I am fulfilling a promise I made to you in Sept. I hope you read it. I actually wrote most of it after we returned from our hunt, but was just waiting for the right thread to post it.]

    1. elk275 Avatar

      Very nice report, thank you.

    2. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson


      With the wall tent I’m sure there were some good times around the sheep herder stove. I would stash wall tents…and stoves… around my 1200 sq. mile country…in 55 gallon barrels… for ten day stakeouts. Some rangers, very few, would also stake out (always two or more it seemed) and bring in those little back pack tents and mummy bags (I used old full size forest service bags). I never in 30 years saw a supposedly dedicated group of guys…all enthusiastic for “going after poachers” ever stay in those ten days of idealized back country romance. In fact I never knew of any to last 5 days. Most were gone in three. Back to the cabin or trail head.

      But one thing I did different than you WM, was if it rained I got to hole up that day. Elk didn’t move and the outfitters knew it also. Thus mostly it was a day indoors for them and me.

      I suppose if one wants to flush those elk out of their homes into the shivering wet rain or slush snow and draw a bead then more power to it. But if a guide did this kind of stuff you talk of, the outfitter gave them holy hell. That dude just wrecked hunting for the next five days in that area. Leave the elk in their house when the weather is bad and they stick around when the weather was nice.

      But I did have to be concerned of the “boys” using the rain to bust aways in the Park, then hole up maybe 15 miles in …then get on with serious hunting. We had guys from Thorofare country head in all the way to the SE arm of Yellowstone Lake (13 miles) in my first years. I countered this 75 year outfitter “tradition” by zig zagging back and forth the upper Yellowstone river, riding across that 3 mile valley, crossing the Yellowstone many times, to find those tracks on the edges. Soon the “word” got out and only once after did I have them make that gold miner mentality rush across hostile Indian lands.

      And as for hunting those elk I did no different than you in my younger days. It was covering every brush thicket in any weather, whether it was Bob Marshall, Spread CK in the Tetons, Pinedale, Cinnabar, Slip & Slide, Doane Mt. and Big Creek in the below Gardiner Yellowstone …. and the Beartooth Still water and flood Creek drainages. I’d see the heads and necks slipping around, maybe a butt…but oh the excitement to see that bit of brown and yellow up close.

      I didn’t know what I was doing. Ya, got elk but this was a poor indicator of knowing what I was doing. It was the cumulative damage to those resident elk herds I didn’t understand. I didn’t know I didn’t have to kill with a gun to kill a lot more than the limit of one I did.

      Do I think it will change? Hunting by the masses? No I don’t. There are thousands of young ‘ens that are duplicating me of years ago. Most stay the same throughout their life …always young in common sense and impact beyond the muzzle blast of that gun.

      And what happens if the young ens savvy up. Those pouring in behind get the elk they were leaving for hunting the next day. Like I have said before, it all (elk hunting today) is just pig farming and everyone might as well “harvest” the pig while they can.

      And it does appear those pigs escaping the confinement slop hole hole when they could…just like the slaves did when they all ran from the maaasta. Scatter here and there…but at the same time finding others with those eye balls a popping out. Maybe get 3-4- or 5 together and go across those inhospitable swamps. But to no avail …. lots of Maaasta sons (hunters) after them ….. and then it finally gets to a single rag horn a sneaking around in that swamp left to bag. Pow, shot me dead, and all is happy in the wall tent. At least that is how it was for me “in my younger days”. Each one of has to see if that shoe fits…and then decide if we want to alter……..

      Maybe then it all will change from pig hunting to elk hunting.

      1. WM Avatar


        Don’t know what to make of your observations of elk and hence futility of hunting in the rain. What do you suppose the elk do where it rains all the time? The west side of the Cascade Crest and the Olympics, for example. My experience hiking and hunting there is that they just keep on doing what they do. Same is true for parts of ID in October. Elk still have to eat, putting on reserve for winter, travel, bulls toot a bit (though certainly not as much as on a cold clear morning), and they even procreate.

        I hunted north of St. Helens in WA after it blew for several years. Rained all the time there in early Nov. (sometimes high winds too), with the occasional snow storm. No holed up elk. They just carried on, same as goes on out on the Olympic Peninsula where the rain is measured in feet (up to 14 ft. per year).

        I am not a trophy hunter, but I got a larger ID bull one year in the rain. It had rained two days straight and on the third we were out in it as usual, soggy-wet-and-cold doing a late afternoon hunt, against my protestations, I might add. Big bull, on the edge of a meadow. I field dressed him with a flashlight in my mouth (before headlamps), and was thankful for the cleansing rain. I actually took some ribbing from my hunting partners, since I was reluctant to go out, with a mindset much as yours.

        Don’t know what to say about your outfitters staying in when it rains much. Maybe your elk do hole up (behavior does fit habitat). My explanation for the outfitters is that the guides don’t want some wet, whining, clumsy client getting hurt or lost (liability) working to find an elk. Rain is a good excuse for a paid day off, where they all sit cozy and dry around the stove, listening to the rain pound the canvas roof of the tent, drinking coffee, maybe taking a pull of the jug and telling tales of past hunts. Isn’t that some of what these clients of outfitters buy…. the dream?

      2. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson


        Rain, rain, rain. Home, home, home. The elk in thorofare, I talk of, were going to their place of security. Their den, their snow cave or cabin in a blizzard, their shelter in a storm…all that sort of thing.

        I use people examples. Lets say “you” were holed up to keep out of adverse elements and somebody came in and flushed you out. Is that more traumatic for you than if you were out eating and or walking across a lawn? Yes it is. Now what if each time you tried to hole up and these same hoodlums flushed you and your family out each and every time?

        Thus it is for elk and horses…and all kinds of wildlife, humans included… fracturing this physical and psychological need.

        And what is rain? Nothing by itself. Put in some wind and cold and it means a lot. It is called hypothermia. Clueless rangers would picket their horses in the wide open in wet snow and rain and wind. Horses would be a shivering in the morning. Do it once and no big deal. Do it night after night…or hunters pushing elk out of their holed up secure areas …. and things get desperate.

        Then of course hunters get to see those elk trying to graze in harsh environments…see them in areas they wouldn’t normally be…see them scurrying around…and pow we have a dead elk and folks who believe elk like to graze in any kind of weather or conditions. ya those elk are tough.

        My uncle was a missionary to the Headhunters in the jungles of South America. It rained ALLLL the time…every day…all day. Life went on as usual and those natives kept a hunting with their poison tipped darts. The rain didn’t bother the game either. This wasn’t a holed up situation…the same as hunting elk in the Pacific NW where wind and small meadows are hypothermia causing.

        Don’t know how you assume I was lumping this all together in something you could counter with simplicity.This is what those with weak knowledge did in debate competitions I was involved in in college. Guess politicans do it all the time also.

        The thrust of what I am saying is my earlier hunting, I believe, was insensitive to other species inner core needs. I was violating this and either we can claim Duh, or we can learn more and act accordingly.

        Thus, those outfitters may not have known why those elk were affected the way they were…that elk violated in their holed up cabin would be tramatized more …and therefore move off …if being hunted in hypothermic conditions, but the end result was the same.

        Did you ever see the movie, Of Mice and Men? Remember when George told Lennie to go back to this secret little spot by the stream if things got bad? Your (the “greater you”, as said in the Big Lewboski) and my past hunting doesn’t allow Lennie ANY place…nor that “little place, that little place with the field of alfalfa and rabbits” to care for.

        Hunting without sensitivity, I feel, is not hunting, it is pig farming.

      3. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        should read “….. where wind and small meadows are NOT hypothermia causing”.

  11. DB Avatar

    Three Idaho old timers arrive at the Pearly Gates together and St Pete asks each their IQ. First guy says 170 and St Pete says “Wow, mabey you can explain Einstein’s theories for me” and the first guy did a good job explaining relativity, etc. and St. Pete says “come in, we’re happy to have you.”

    Second Idaho guy asked the same question answers 190 so St Pete asks him if he can talk about Darwin’s theroy of evolution. The guy gives a lengthy explanation of the origin of species, natural selection, etc, and St. Pete, impressed, says “Great, please come in.”

    St Pete asks the third guy his IQ and and the guy says 55. St Pete ponders this a while and finally asks “So, have you got your elk yet.”

    1. PointsWest Avatar

      I heard that same joke except the last line was:

      St Pete asks the third guy his IQ and and the guy says 55. St Pete ponders this a while and finally asks “What is your favorite brand of vegie burger”?

      I think this is much funnier. 😉

      1. JB Avatar

        Sorry, PW. Vegetarianism in childhood is associated with higher IQs in adulthood.

        “Results 366 (4.5%) participants said they were vegetarian, although 123 (33.6%) admitted eating fish or chicken. Vegetarians were more likely to be female, to be of higher social class (both in childhood and currently), and to have attained higher academic or vocational qualifications, although these socioeconomic advantages were not reflected in their income. Higher IQ at age 10 years was associated with an increased likelihood of being vegetarian at age 30 (odds ratio for one standard deviation increase in childhood IQ score 1.38, 95% confidence interval 1.24 to 1.53). IQ remained a statistically significant predictor of being vegetarian as an adult after adjustment for social class (both in childhood and currently), academic or vocational qualifications, and sex (1.20, 1.06 to 1.36). Exclusion of those who said they were vegetarian but ate fish or chicken had little effect on the strength of this association.

        Conclusion Higher scores for IQ in childhood are associated with an increased likelihood of being a vegetarian as an adult. ”

        Got your elk yet? 😉

      2. WM Avatar


        It seems I have heard the same claims about classical music – higher IQ’s in infants and even pre-natal exposure. What those early studies did not account for was the fact that the parents (genetic biological input) of study participants did not come from the same backgrounds. So, parents with higher IQ’s exposed their infant to Bach and Beethoven, while parents with lower IQ’s did not, the erroneous conclusion was that the classical music resulted in higher brain function, rather than genetics. Go figure.

        Hope the veggie study doesn’t suffer from the same flaw – your link to the vintage British study 1970 suggests the same failure to account for this huge variable, with social class possibly being a proxy for smarter parents (though we know that is not always true).

      3. JB Avatar

        Note: I actually reversed the relationship in my earlier post. I should have written: Higher IQ tests in childhood were associated with greater rates of vegetarianism in adults (they did account for social class/educational attainment). Regardless, I was just attempting to have a little fun at the expense of omnivores (myself included). 😉

        “Participants of the 1970 British cohort study with higher intelligence test scores in childhood were more likely to report being a vegetarian at age 30 years. This relation was partly accounted for by educational attainment and by occupational social class in adult life but remained statistically significant after adjustment for these factors.”

      4. Robert Hoskins Avatar
        Robert Hoskins

        It strikes me that the attempt to establish a causative relationship between vegetarianism and high IQ/intelligence is more ideological than scientific. I grew up eating meat–grew up hunting too–and I always scored high on the standard IQ tests of the time. Got selected for all kinds of summer programs sponsored by the University of North Carolina, which later became my alma mater.

        What was critical in my case was that I was part of the Southern landed gentry–a class that no longer exists in the South. I was also part of a family of professional and amateur historians and, I’m sorry to admit, lawyers.

        To put it bluntly, the family did not suffer nutritional stress and stressed education. Those two factors were a hell of a lot more important for me than whether we ate meat or not.

        The poor–rural African-American serfs and white tenant farmers and factory workers (especially textiles, brown lung disease was a terrible problem)–did suffer serious nutritional stress. Very little meat, little fresh fruit and vegetables, etc. in their diets. Even back then, junk foods were a problem, as was alcoholism.

        I suspect a truly objective, honest assessment of the social bases of intelligence would conclude that what’s important is class and wealth.

      5. WM Avatar

        Yeah, I know what you mean, and the historical observations humor are good. From the study you cited, there were even a couple of historical quotes that get a chuckle. The one from Ben Franklin, which I particularly enjoyed: vegetarian diet results in “greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension.” …… and, “Vegetarianism is harmless enough, though it is apt to fill a man with wind and self-righteousness,” declared Robert Hutchison in an address to the BMA in 1930.

        I should also say a Ben Franklin essay was, if I recall correctly, required reading in a graduate level college class that I took. Don’t recall the exact title but the subject was “selection of a mistress.” Franklin was a great man of many talents and interests, who thought the national symbol should have been the wild turkey, instead of the bald eagle – primarily because it is a little vain and silly, but a bird of courage not afraid of attacking a Grenadier or Redcoat and chasing it from a farm yard.

      6. JB Avatar


        Actually, there may be something to Franklin’s quote. My son has an extremely rare genetic condition (Phenylketonuria)–his body is not fully capable of processing the amino acid, phenylalanine (phe), which is primarily in protein. If his protein intake isn’t tightly monitored, phe can build up in his blood and cause brain damage. In adults with Phenylketonuria, a build up of phe can cause a temporary stupor similar to dimentia. Fortunately for us, my son’s condition is extremely mild–he can even eat some meat. Still, it seems to me that in the right person, an extremely high intake of mean (and therefore, phe) might cause the sort of mental clouding Franklin noticed? Something to ask the experts the next time we’re in to see the physician.

      7. WM Avatar


        I certainly wish you and your family the best in managing your son’s phe condition. Thanks for the information.

        Many of us, myself included, don’t know as much about what we put in our bodies and how it metabolized, as we should. As we get into this colder season (including the holidays) in northern climes there certainly is a tendency (maybe genetic programming) to eat high meat protein meals, and just more calories from the wrong foods that we just do not need. Our family, for many years, has viewed elk, with its much lower fat content, and in smaller portions, and often combined with vegetables, a good alternative to beef. I made elk stew, with an abundance of parsnips and carrots this weekend. Of course, we are fortunate to have fish and shellfish alternatives here in the NW, this time of year, as well.

      8. JB Avatar

        Thanks, WM. Fortunately, we’re very lucky that he has an extremely mild case.

        My wife and I don’t eat beef anymore, but we do eat venison and bison from time to time. Her research interests, which includes childhood obesity, have been eyeopening for me and led me to question just where we are placing economic incentives (in the form of ag subsidies) in this country [per our conversation on an earlier thread].

        Anyway, glad to hear your family will be able to have elk stew this coming year.

  12. PointsWest Avatar

    WM…it was a very unusual snow year last year. I happen to be watching the on-line snotel report map every few weeks. By March, many drainages of Idaho and Montana were down to 30% of normal. Then in May and early June, there were huge rain and snow storms that would not end. These late spring storms brought snow packs back up to normal or above.

    I doubt this weather killed elk, but it may have altered the growth patterns of browse. Elk this year, to find browse, may have been in unusual areas either higher on the mountains or lower down in the drainages…even out towards farm fields. It was a very odd weather year and I think it explains all the grizzly attacks and starving bears in the GYE.

    I do not really know, of course, but I hunted for many years and have known reliable areas where there is always elk and then one year you go into them and nothing is there. You may be right that it is wolves but it seems like wolves would not be able to wipe elk out of an area in one year.

    1. WM Avatar


      I don’t think the elk have been wiped out in the area we hunt. And, they don’t summarily move out. Sorry, if I left that impression. The feed was fine, and plenty of evidence of recent browse activity, with chomped off stems – these elk love elderberry bushes. The behavior has changed signficantly, and based on our evaluation of animals harvested, much less body fat compared to past years. This means they are not feeding quite as much, and possibly going into winter with less fat reserve, which can mean higher winter caused mortality, especially if we get a bad one.

      And, we know the wolves are getting some elk. There is plenty of evidence of that. What I am most concerned about is calf recruitment. Three years of recent wolf activity may mean fewer young elk coming up. That demographic may ultimately affect populations.

  13. Alan Avatar

    I know that in Paradise Valley (Mt.), for all the talk of “no elk” I sure am seeing a lot of six point bulls being hauled around in the back of pickup trucks. I think it’s mandatory, after you get your elk, to drive around a bit, go to the hardware store, get gas, visit friends (see what I got), etc. I told a friend, “Don’t think I’d want to eat that meat; can you imagine if a butcher treated a piece of meat that way and tried to sell it? But, it’s not my problem! I’ll stick to my veggie burgers (with two g’s, btw PW (-; ). Don’t know if these guys (gals), who are successful, are the ones I see parked along the side of the road with scopes in one hand and rifles in the other, or back country hunters. Would like to think they are the latter. Got their elk the old fashioned way: They EARNED it!

  14. Nancy Avatar

    SB, is there a possibility that his wording is an attempt to combine the private lands (as exclusive) and the public lands as the commercial aspect of his outfitting area?

    1. Save bears Avatar

      He may be, but I don’t know of any program over Federal lands that gives anyone exclusive rights, even with the public leased ranch lands, they are not suppose to deny access, I know they try, but they are not suppose to do this..

      1. SAP Avatar

        There’s an outfitter up in the Madison Range who operates out of a state section. The state lands guy certainly knows about it and inspects his camp sporadically (I know because the state guy would come out to the ranch I worked at to look at the “landlocked” state lands within ranch boundaries and would go up to the outfitter camp on the same trip). The outfitter certainly does not have exclusive access, he’s just the exclusive commercial outfitter.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan