Record low number of elk so far on National Elk Refuge

Abundant grass in mountains and lack of snow keeps elk off of Refuge-

The amazing wet spring and early summer continue to affect wildlife (and hunting) in NW Wyoming.  Usually this time of year elk are moving onto the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole. This year, however, numbers are very low, with prized bulls for the hunt close to zero.

Studies of elk show they don’t like to bunch up in the large aggregations encouraged by Wyoming wildlife management practices.  As a result they hold back while they have food. Some “winter out,” and never go to the Elk Refuge or one of the many state winter feedgrounds.

There is also the GTNP/Elk Refuge elk hunt every year at this time.  If large numbers elk move, a line of firing hunters develops on the northern end of the Refuge.  The elk know this and move through fast. In recent years in the effort to reduce the overpopulation of elk on the Refuge, a south end hunt was started.  The result may not have been what was expected. More elk are not killed because they don’t move onto the south end of the Refuge.

The article today in the Jackson Hole Daily by Cory Hatch tells “Biologists and photographers say elk are congregating in Grand Teton National Park west of the Snake where they can’t be hunted.”




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  1. P. Dog Avatar

    Perhaps the elk are evolving to be smarter than humans! We love our Roosevelt Elk herd. The city of Sequim, WA has them depicted on our welcome signs, tourist postcards, etc. Some have radio collars that set off warning lights to drivers if they are close to the main hwy. There are always a few people who say they are a nuisance, but the majority of the community will protect them.

  2. jdubya Avatar

    What smarty pants!!

  3. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Local Wyoming mountain folklore regarding migration and hibernation says it takes three good snowatorms in the autumn to get animals motivated to migrate or hibernate. One to remind them summer is over , two to get them thinking about it, and after ( or just before, usually )the third storm of the season they kick it into gear , or go dig a den in the case of bears.

    An elk migration is a spectacle to behold. An elk herd will leave the summer range of the Thorofare or Upper Yellowstone and move en masse over several passes across three major watersheds to winter range on the lower Greybull River in just 3 days , a distance of 35 miles as the eagle flies but closer to 50 on the trails.

    I knew an old timer who happened to catch the Big Migration at the bottleneck crossing near the old mining cabins of Needle Creek on the South Fork of the Shoshone, when four thousand elk came thru in the middle of the night , silently. That was the first week of December in a dry autumn about forty years or so ago. I’ve seen about 2500 elk on the move in Sunlight Basin on the reverse migration in Spring. Back during the late 50’s when the northern herd of Elk were so overpopulated in Yellowstone , Sunlight Basin would be empty of elk one week, and thousands would be there the next , around mid-November when we still had ” real” winters.

    I’m not the least bit surprised that the Absaroka elk are taking their time about sauntering down to the National Elk Refuge. The high country is still open , and I still have flowers blooming out here in town . Those two items are not unrelated. Climate Change is real. It has skewed the seasons here in northwest Wyoming. Elk are not nearly as habituated as some would say. They know when it’s time to move.

  4. Jon Way Avatar

    I for one wouldn’t mind if they (elk) all wait until after 12/11 to show up, if it all…

    1. Kayla Avatar

      Do Sooooo Agree!

    2. Harley Avatar

      Why 12/11? Is that the end of hunting season maybe? Sorry, city kid from Chicago, never hunted before so I’m just guessing!

  5. Kayla Avatar

    Am not surprised that they have not come onto the Elk Refuge as yet. Here in town we still have bare ground with the snow mainly staying in the mountains. Also these Elk are Not Dumb! Do think many of the animals are far smarter then what we Human Two Leggads give them credit for. And just maybe we are the dumb ones. Have heard also that many of the Bighorn Sheep also have not come down to the refuge on Miller’s Butte. Maybe these animals know something we don’t. It was several years ago that some of the Antelope stayed in the valley all winter and never did migrate south. It turned out to be a mild snow winter. Maybe these animals know something that we don’t know.

  6. Cobra Avatar

    I think animals are far better at predicting weather than any weatherman or woman. They sure seem to know when a heavy storm is on the way.If people pay attention to what they are doing and how active they are, early feeding, heavy feeding etc. you can sometimes tell what is in store weather wise, especially in the fall and winter.Even flies can tell you when there’s rain on the way. Those days that the flies seem to bug you to death and constantly land on you seems to be the days that are humid and rain is on the way. I know it’s not science but more times than not it seems like a pretty good indicator. Besides, I don’t think the weatherman can even hit 25% in predicting the weather, animals and bugs couldn’t be to much


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