It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. At least for those who drew an elk tag for this season after two years of excellent forage and moisture.
On Wednesday of last week, the young bulls had stripped their velvet and begun to joust.
The larger bulls still had a few days left on their growth and avoided the roughhousing.
While still covered with the protective velvet, their antlers could transmit pain and while the youngsters could afford to waste their energies jockeying for future domination.
The herd bulls instinctively conserve their energies for the breeding season to come.
I caught the bachelor group as they were leaving the nigh-darkened alfalfa fields on their way to the more protected shadows of the timbered woods.
For some unknown reason the largest bull, a seven-by-seven, stopped before crossing the fence.
He instead turned and headed back down to the cooler temperatures of a timbered prairie draw.
This change in habit allowed me the opportunity to close the distance and take a few revealing photos. They might be the best elk pictures I have ever captured and with the aid of a telephoto lens and a tripod, I was able to remain at a safe distance and not frighten the bulls away.
Starting this weekend, archery, rifle, and wing shooters will share the forests and plains. Rifle elk hunters will stalk through the prairies alongside archery deer and antelope hunters as well as dove shooters afield with their shotguns.
My sons and a few friends from college will come home for a vacation weekend where the game pole could be weighed down by mule deer, whitetail, pronghorn, and wapiti all from one three-day hunt.
A decade ago, I hosted a trio of Kentucky friends who had booked a hunt for deer, antelope, and Merriam’s turkey.
Antelope were plentiful then and double tags were encouraged, so each hunter had tags for four big game animals during their trip.
In less than two days, they had filled 11 of those 12 permits with excellent trophies with only a single archery hunter failing to harvest his buck.
It is a rarity I’ve never duplicated.
For out of state hunters on a short schedule it was a dream hunt, but for residents who enjoy the outdoors and the company of their friends, it might have been depressing.
The plentiful moisture and cool temperatures have led to an inversion of sorts in habitat.
While the clover has provided an incredible boost to the nutrition in the lower elevations, grasses are shorter and the growing season delayed in the high country.
Anyone with a garden can testify that we have had a delayed growing season and while there has been ample feed, the animals of the prairie might have had a nutritional advantage over their timbered cousins that live above 6000 feet.
Despite the short grasses, the high-country elk and deer have put on an antler extravaganza.
I have seen some tremendous trophies and the animals roll with layers of fat and glistening coats.
Already the temperatures have dropped down into the forties and the herd leaders at the top of the pecking order have gathered considerable herds.
An evening’s drive reveals the location of the most vocal of the herds, but with plentiful water and excellent browse from scrub oak the elk have no need to stick to one location.
Travel patterns at this time of year have animals covering miles each day from one end of their range to the next.
Hunters will have to be mobile to keep up.
It’s an early Christmas for those who get to venture early afield in search of our state’s greatest antlered trophies.
The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.
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