Finding an Edge
The elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) is one of the largest species within the deer family, Cervidae, in the world, and one of the largest land mammals in North America and eastern Asia. This animal should not be confused with the larger moose (Alces alces), to which the name “elk” applies in the British Isles and Eurasia. Apart from the moose, the only other member of the deer family to rival the elk in size is the south Asian sambar (Rusa unicolor).
Elk range in forest and forest-edge habitat, feeding on grasses, plants, leaves and bark. Male elk have large antlers which are shed each year. Males also engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the rut, including posturing, antler wrestling (sparring), and bugling, a loud series of vocalizations which establishes dominance over other males and attracts females.
Although native to North America and eastern Asia, they have adapted well to countries where they have been introduced, including Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Their great adaptability may threaten endemic species and ecosystems into which they have been introduced. Elk are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to livestock. Efforts to eliminate infectious diseases from elk populations, largely through vaccination, have had mixed success.
Some cultures revere the elk as a spiritual force. In parts of Asia, antlers and their velvet are used in traditional medicines. Elk are hunted as a game species; the meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef or chicken.
It was long believed to be a subspecies of the European red deer (Cervus elaphus), but evidence from a number of mitochondrial DNA genetic studies beginning in 1998 indicate that the two are distinct species. Key morphological differences that distinguish C. canadensis from C. elaphus are the former’s wider rump patch and paler-hued antlers.
Naming and etymology
Early European explorers in North America, who were familiar with the smaller red deer of Europe, thought that the larger North American animal resembled a moose, and consequently gave it the name elk, which is the common European name for moose. The word elk is related to the Latin alces, Old Norse elgr, Scandinavian elg/älg and German Elch, all of which refer to the animal known in North America as the moose.
The name wapiti is from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning “white rump”. This name is used in particular for the Asian subspecies (Altai wapiti, Tian Shan wapiti, Manchurian wapiti and Alashan wapiti), because in Eurasia the name elk continues to be used for the moose.
Asian subspecies are sometimes referred to as the maral, but this name applies primarily to the Caspian red deer (Cervus elaphus maral), a subspecies of red deer. There is a subspecies of elk in Mongolia called the Altai wapiti (Cervus canadensis sibiricus), also known as the Altai maral. (The name “Siberian elk” is used for Alces alces ssp. cameloides.)
Members of the genus Cervus (and hence early relatives or possible ancestors of the elk) first appear in the fossil record 25 million years ago, during the Oligocene in Eurasia, but do not appear in the North American fossil record until the early Miocene. The extinct Irish elk (Megaloceros) was not a member of the genus Cervus, but rather the largest member of the wider deer family (Cervidae) known from the fossil record.
Until recently, red deer and elk were considered to be one species, Cervus elaphus. However, mitochondrial DNA studies, conducted on hundreds of samples in 2004 from red deer and elk subspecies as well as other species of the Cervus deer family, strongly indicate that elk, or wapiti, should be a distinct species, namely Cervus canadensis. The previous classification had over a dozen subspecies under the C. elaphus species designation; DNA evidence concludes that elk are more closely related to Thorold’s deer and even sika deer than they are to the red deer. Though elk and red deer can produce fertile offspring in captivity, geographic isolation between the species in the wild and differences in mating behaviors indicate that reproduction between them outside a controlled environment would be unlikely. However, the two species have freely inter-bred in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, where the cross-bred animals have all but removed the pure elk blood from the area.
There are numerous subspecies of elk described, with six from North America and four from Asia, although some taxonomists consider them different ecotypes or races of the same species (adapted to local environments through minor changes in appearance and behavior). Populations vary as to antler shape and size, body size, coloration and mating behavior. DNA investigations of the Eurasian subspecies revealed that phenotypic variation in antlers, mane and rump patch development are based on “climatic-related lifestyle factors”. Of the six subspecies of elk known to have inhabited North America in historical times, four remain, including the Roosevelt (C. canadensis roosevelti), tule (C. canadensis nannodes), Manitoban (C. canadensis manitobensis) and Rocky Mountain (C. canadensis nelsoni). The eastern elk (C. canadensis canadensis) and Merriam’s elk (C. canadensis merriami) subspecies have been extinct for at least a century.
Four subspecies described in Asia include the Altai wapiti (C. canadensis sibiricus) and the Tianshan wapiti (C. canadensis songaricus). Two distinct subspecies found in China and Korea are the Manchurian wapiti (C. canadensis xanthopygus) and the Alashan wapitis (C. canadensis alashanicus). The Manchurian wapiti is darker and more reddish in coloration than the other populations. The Alashan wapiti of north central China is the smallest of all subspecies, has the lightest coloration and is the least studied. Biologist Valerius Geist, who has written on the world’s various deer species, holds that there are only three subspecies of elk. Geist recognizes the Manchurian and Alashan wapiti but places all other elk into C. canadensis canadensis, claiming that classification of the four surviving North American groups as subspecies is driven, at least partly, for political purposes to secure individualized conservation and protective measures for each of the surviving populations.
Recent DNA studies suggest that there are no more than three or four subspecies of elk. All American forms seem to belong to one subspecies (Cervus canadensis canadensis). Even the Siberian elk (Cervus canadensis sibiricus) are more or less identical to the American forms and therefore may belong to this subspecies, too. However the Manchurian wapiti (Cervus canadensis xanthopygus) is clearly distinct from the Siberian forms, but not distinguishable from the Alashan wapiti. The Chinese forms MacNeill’s deer, Kansu red deer, and Tibetan red deer belong also to the wapitis and were not distinguishable from each other by mitochondrial DNA studies. These Chinese subspecies are sometimes treated as a distinct species, namely the Central Asian red deer (Cervus wallichi), which also includes the Kashmir stag.
- Northern and American group
- Eastern group
- Southern group (Central Asian red deer)
The elk is a large animal of the ungulate order Artiodactyla, possessing an even number of toes on each foot, similar to those of camels, goats and cattle. It is a ruminant species, with a four-chambered stomach, and feeds on grasses, plants, leaves and bark. During the summer, elk eat almost constantly, consuming between 4 and 7 kilograms (8.8 and 15.4 lb) of vegetation daily. In North America, males are called bulls, and females are called cows. In Asia, stag and hind, respectively, are sometimes used instead.
Elk are more than twice as heavy as mule deer and have a more reddish hue to their hair coloring, as well as large, buff colored rump patches and smaller tails. Moose are larger and darker than elk; bulls have distinctively different antlers. Elk gather in herds, while moose are solitary. Elk cows average 225 to 241 kg (496 to 531 lb), stand 1.3 m (4.3 ft) at the shoulder, and are 2.1 m (6.9 ft) from nose to tail. Bulls are some 40% larger than cows at maturity, weighing an average of 320 to 331 kg (705 to 730 lb), standing 1.5 m (4.9 ft) at the shoulder and averaging 2.45 m (8.0 ft) in length. The largest of the subspecies is the Roosevelt elk (C. c. roosevelti), found west of the Cascade Range in the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Roosevelt elk have been reintroduced into Alaska, where the largest males are estimated to weigh up to 600 kg (1,300 lb). More typically, male Roosevelt elks weigh around 300 to 544 kg (661 to 1,199 lb), while females weigh 260 to 285 kg (573 to 628 lb). The smallest-bodied race is the tule elk (C. c. nannodes), which weighs from 170 to 250 kg (370 to 550 lb) in both sexes.
Only the males have antlers, which start growing in the spring and are shed each winter. The largest antlers may be 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) long and weigh 18 kilograms (40 lb). Antlers are made of bone which can grow at a rate of 2.5 centimetres (0.98 in) per day. While actively growing, the antlers are covered with and protected by a soft layer of highly vascularised skin known as velvet. The velvet is shed in the summer when the antlers have fully developed. Bull elk may have eight or more tines on each antler; however, the number of tines has little to do with the age or maturity of a particular animal. The Siberian and North American elk carry the largest antlers while the Altai wapiti have the smallest. The formation and retention of antlers is testosterone-driven. After the breeding season in late fall, the level of pheromones released during estrus declines in the environment and the testosterone levels of males drop as a consequence. This drop in testosterone leads to the shedding of antlers, usually in the early winter.
During the fall, elk grow a thicker coat of hair, which helps to insulate them during the winter. Males, females and calves of Siberian and North American elk all grow thin neck manes; female and young Manchurian and Alaskan wapitis do not. By early summer, the heavy winter coat has been shed, and elk are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies. All elk have small and clearly defined rump patches with short tails. They have different coloration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with gray or lighter coloration prevalent in the winter and a more reddish, darker coat in the summer. Subspecies living in arid climates tend to have lighter colored coats than do those living in forests. Most have lighter yellow-brown to orange-brown coats in contrast to dark brown hair on the head, neck, and legs during the summer. Forest-adapted Manchurian and Alaskan wapitis have darker reddish-brown coats with less contrast between the body coat and the rest of the body during the summer months. Calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and they lose their spots by the end of summer. Adult Manchurian wapiti may retain a few orange spots on the back of their summer coats until they are older. This characteristic has also been observed in the forest-adapted European red deer.
Adult elk usually stay in single-sex groups for most of the year. During the mating period known as the rut, mature bulls compete for the attentions of the cow elk and will try to defend females in their harem. Rival bulls challenge opponents by bellowing and by paralleling each other, walking back and forth. This allows potential combatants to assess the other’s antlers, body size and fighting prowess. If neither bull backs down, they engage in antler wrestling, and bulls sometimes sustain serious injuries. Bulls also dig holes in the ground, in which they urinate and roll their body. A male elk’s urethra points upward so that urine is sprayed almost at a right angle to the penis. The urine soaks into their hair and gives them a distinct smell which attracts cows.
Dominant bulls follow groups of cows during the rut, from August into early winter. A bull will defend his harem of 20 cows or more from competing bulls and predators. Only mature bulls have large harems and breeding success peaks at about eight years of age. Bulls between two and four years and over 11 years of age rarely have harems, and spend most of the rut on the periphery of larger harems. Young and old bulls that do acquire a harem hold it later in the breeding season than do bulls in their prime. A bull with a harem rarely feeds and he may lose up to 20 percent of his body weight. Bulls that enter the rut in poor condition are less likely to make it through to the peak conception period or have the strength to survive the rigors of the oncoming winter.
Bulls have a loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling, which can be heard for miles. Bugling is often associated with an adaptation to open environments such as parklands, meadows, and savannas, where sound can travel great distances. Females are attracted to the males that bugle more often and have the loudest call. Bugling is most common early and late in the day and is one of the most distinctive sounds in nature, akin to the howl of the gray wolf.
Reproduction and lifecycle
Elk live 20 years or more in captivity but average 10 to 13 years in the wild. In some subspecies that suffer less predation, they may live an average of 15 years in the wild.
Predators and defensive tactics
Wolf and coyote packs and the solitary cougar are the most likely predators, although brown and black bears also prey on elk. Coyote packs mostly prey on elk calves, though they can sometimes take a winter-weakened adult. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which includes Yellowstone National Park, bears are the most significant predators of calves. Major predators in Asia include the wolf, dhole, brown bear, Siberian tiger, Amur leopard, and snow leopard. Eurasian lynx and wild boar sometimes prey on Asian elk calves. Historically, tigers in the Lake Baikal region fed on Manchurian wapiti, and continue to do so in the Amur region.
Male elk retain their antlers for more than half the year and are less likely to group with other males when they have antlers. Antlers provide a means of defense, as does a strong front-leg kick, which is performed by either sex if provoked. Once the antlers have been shed, bulls tend to form bachelor groups which allow them to work cooperatively at fending off predators. Herds tend to employ one or more scouts while the remaining members eat and rest.
After the rut, females form large herds of up to 50 individuals. Newborn calves are kept close by a series of vocalizations; larger nurseries have an ongoing and constant chatter during the daytime hours. When approached by predators, the largest and most robust females may make a stand, using their front legs to kick at their attackers. Guttural grunts and posturing effectively deter all but the most determined predators.
As is true for many species of deer, especially those in mountainous regions, elk migrate into areas of higher altitude in the spring, following the retreating snows, and the opposite direction in the fall. Hunting pressure also impacts migration and movements. During the winter, they favor wooded areas and sheltered valleys for protection from the wind and availability of tree bark to eat. Roosevelt elk are generally non-migratory due to less seasonal variability of food sources.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem elk herd numbers over 200,000 individuals and during the spring and fall, they take part in the longest elk migration in the continental U.S. Elk in the southern regions of Yellowstone National Park and in the surrounding National Forests migrate south towards the town of Jackson, Wyoming, where they winter for up to six months on the National Elk Refuge. Conservationists there ensure the herd is well fed during the harsh winters. Many of the elk that reside in the northern sections of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem migrate to lower altitudes in Montana, mainly to the north and west.
Parasites and disease
At least 53 species of protist and animal parasites have been identified in elk. Most of these parasites seldom lead to significant mortality among wild or captive elk. Parelaphostrongylus tenuis (brainworm or meningeal worm) is a parasitic nematode known to affect the spinal cord and brain tissue of elk and other species, leading to death. The definitive host is the white-tailed deer, in which it normally has no ill effects. Snails and slugs, the intermediate hosts, can be inadvertently consumed by elk during grazing. The liver fluke Fascioloides magna and the nematode Dictyocaulus viviparus are also commonly found parasites that can be fatal to elk. Since infection by either of these parasites can be lethal to some commercial livestock species, their presence in elk herds is of some concern.
Chronic wasting disease, transmitted by a misfolded protein known as a prion, affects the brain tissue in elk, and has been detected throughout their range in North America. First documented in the late 1960s in mule deer, the disease has affected elk on game farms and in the wild in a number of regions. Elk that have contracted the disease begin to show weight loss, increased watering needs, disorientation and listlessness, and at an advanced stage the disease leads to death. The disease is similar to but not the same as mad cow disease, and no risks to humans have been documented, nor has the disease been demonstrated to pose a threat to domesticated cattle. In 2002, South Korea banned the importation of elk antler velvet due to concerns about chronic wasting disease.
The Gram-negative bacterial disease brucellosis occasionally affects elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the only place in the U.S. where the disease is still known to exist. In domesticated cattle, brucellosis causes infertility, abortions and reduced milk production. It is transmitted to humans as undulant fever, producing flu-like symptoms which may last for years. Though bison are more likely to transmit the disease to other animals, elk inadvertently transmitted brucellosis to horses in Wyoming and cattle in Idaho. Researchers are attempting to eradicate the disease through vaccinations and herd management measures, which are expected to be successful.
A recent necropsy study of captive elk in Pennsylvania attributed the cause of death in 33 of 65 cases to either gastrointestinal parasites (21 cases, primarily Eimeria sp. and Ostertagia sp.) or bacterial infections (12 cases, mostly pneumonia).
Modern subspecies are descended from elk that once inhabited Beringia, a steppe region between Asia and North America that connected the two continents during the Pleistocene. Beringia provided a migratory route for numerous mammal species, including brown bear, camel, horse, caribou, and moose, as well as humans. As the Pleistocene came to an end, ocean levels began to rise; elk migrated southwards into Asia and North America. In North America they adapted to almost all ecosystems except for tundra, true deserts, and the gulf coast of the U.S. The elk of southern Siberia and central Asia were once more widespread but today are restricted to the mountain ranges west of Lake Baikal including the Sayan and Altai Mountains of Mongolia and the Tianshan region that borders Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China’s Xinjiang Province. The habitat of Siberian elk in Asia is similar to that of the Rocky Mountain subspecies in North America.
Throughout their range, they live in forest and in forest edge habitat, similar to other deer species. In mountainous regions, they often dwell at higher elevations in summer, migrating down slope for winter. The highly adaptable elk also inhabit semi-deserts in North America, such as the Great Basin. Manchurian and Alashan wapiti are primarily forest dwellers and their smaller antler size is a likely adaptation to a forest environment.
The Rocky Mountain elk subspecies has been reintroduced by hunter-conservation organizations in the Appalachian region of the eastern U.S., where the now extinct eastern elk once lived After elk were reintroduced in the states of Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee, they migrated into the neighboring states of Virginia and West Virginia, and have established permanent populations there. Elk have also been reintroduced to a number of other states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Etolin and Afognak Islands in Alaska. As of 1989, population figures for the Rocky Mountain subspecies were 782,500, and estimated numbers for all North American subspecies exceeded 1 million. Prior to the European colonization of North America, there were an estimated 10 million elk on the continent.
Outside their native habitat, elk and other deer species, especially white tails, were introduced in areas that previously had few if any large native ungulates. Brought to these countries for hunting and ranching for meat, hides and antler velvet, they have proven highly adaptable and have often had an adverse impact on local ecosystems. Elk and red deer were introduced to Argentina in the early 20th century. There they are now considered an invasive species, encroaching on Argentinian ecosystems where they compete for food with the indigenous Chilean huemul and other herbivores. This negative impact on native animal species has led the IUCN to identify the elk as one of the world’s 100 worst invaders. Both elk and red deer have also been introduced into Australia.
The introduction of deer to New Zealand began in the middle of the 19th century, and current populations are primarily European red deer, with only 15 percent being elk. There is significant hybridization of elk with the more numerous red deer to the extent that pure elk may no longer exist in the wild in New Zealand. These deer have had an adverse impact on forest regeneration of some plant species, as they consume more palatable species which are replaced with those that are less favored by the elk. The long-term impact will be an alteration of the types of plants and trees found, and in other animal and plant species dependent upon them. As in Chile and Argentina, the IUCN has declared that red deer and elk populations in New Zealand are an invasive species.
A Kiowa couple. The woman to the right is wearing an elk tooth dress.
Elk have played an important role in the cultural history of a number of peoples. Pictograms and petroglyphs of elk were carved into cliffs thousands of years ago by the Anasazi of the southwestern U.S. More recent Native American tribes, including the Kootenai, Cree, Blackfeet, Ojibwa and Pawnee, produced blankets and robes from elk hides. The elk was of particular importance to the Lakota, and played a spiritual role in their society. At birth, Lakota males were given an elk’s tooth to promote a long life since that was seen as the last part of dead elk to rot away. The elk was seen as having strong sexual potency and young Lakota males who had dreamed of elk would have an image of the mythical representation of the elk on their “courting coats” as a sign of sexual prowess. The Lakota believed that the mythical or spiritual elk, not the physical one, was the teacher of men and the embodiment of strength, sexual prowess and courage.
Neolithic petroglyphs from Asia depict antler-less female elk, which have been interpreted as symbolizing rebirth and sustenance. By the beginning of the Bronze Age, the elk is depicted less frequently in rock art, coinciding with a cultural transformation away from hunting.
The Rocky Mountain elk is the official state animal for Utah. An image of an elk and a moose appear on the state seal and flag of Michigan. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (B.P.O.E.) chose the elk as its namesake because a number of its attributes seemed appropriate for cultivation by members of the fraternity. A representation of the majestic head of the male, with its spreading antlers, was adopted as the first badge of the Order; and is still the most conspicuous element of its copyrighted fraternal emblem. A prized possession of many members of the B.P.O.E. are jewel encrusted, gold mounted elk teeth – which are actually ivory.
Although breakdown figures for each game species are not available in the 2006 National Survey from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunting of wild elk is most likely the primary economic impact.
Elk are held in captivity, or farmed, for hunting, meat production and velvet collection. In what is known as a canned hunt, a hunter pays a fee for an essentially guaranteed chance to shoot an elk in an escape-proof range. While elk are not generally harvested for meat production on a large scale, some restaurants offer the meat as a specialty item and it is also available in some grocery stores. The meat has a taste somewhere between beef and venison and is higher in protein and lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, pork, and chicken. Elk meat is also a good source of iron, phosphorus and zinc.
A male elk can produce 10 to 11 kilograms (22 to 24 lb) of antler velvet annually and on ranches in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, this velvet is collected and sold to markets in East Asia, where it is used in medicine. Velvet is also considered by some cultures to be an aphrodisiac. However, consuming velvet from elk in North America may be risky since velvet from animals infected with chronic wasting disease may contain prions that could result in a human getting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Antlers are also used in artwork, furniture and other novelty items. All Asian subspecies, along with other deer, have been raised for their antlers in central and eastern Asia by Han Chinese, Turkic peoples, Tungusic peoples, Mongolians, and Koreans. Elk farms are relatively common in North America and New Zealand.
Since 1967, the Boy Scouts of America have assisted employees at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming by collecting the antlers which are shed each winter. The antlers are then auctioned with 80% of the proceeds returned to the refuge. In 2010, 2,520 kilograms (5,560 lb) of antlers were auctioned, bringing in over $46,000.
Rocky Mountain elk
The Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni) is a subspecies of elk found in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent ranges of Western North America. The winter ranges are most common in open forests and floodplain marshes in the lower elevations. In the summer it migrates to the subalpine forests and alpine basins. The total wild population is about one million individuals.
The Rocky Mountain elk was re-introduced in 1913 to Colorado from Wyoming after the near extinction of the regional herds. While overhunting is a significant contributing factor, the elk’s near extinction is mainly attributed to human encroachment and destruction of their natural habitats and migratory corridors.
All Rocky Mountain elk in Washington State are the result of reintroductions conducted in the early 1900s from Yellowstone elk herds. These initial reintroductions have expanded their range and have also been translocated within the State. Not all of these elk have all the habitat to be successful in large numbers; supplemental feeding programs are used to compensate for lost winter range .
In recent years, elk from Utah have been used to reestablish a population in Kentucky.
As of 2010, the Rocky Mountain elk herd has been diagnosed with a serious disorder called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD affects the brain tissue of infected elk and is similar in symptoms to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad-cow disease (MCD). There is no evidence to conclude that elk CWD is transmittable to humans, and research concerning CWD and its effect on the eco-system continues. Environmental and CWD problems in Estes Park, Colorado and, on a greater scale, throughout the Western U.S. and North America have local, state, and federal policy makers searching for solutions.
The Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Park environments are physically disrupted by the migration of the elk, ranging in size from calves to full-grown 700-pound adults. Several indigenous butterfly and plant species are harmed, especially the aspen groves that the elk herd of perhaps 3,000 animals decimates in its search for food. The elk population, while taxing the common food resources, also adversely affects native species that share the same food supply, such as the indigenous beavers.
Big-game hunting is the hunting of large game, almost always large terrestrial mammals, for meat, other animal by-products (such as horn or bone), trophy or sport. The term is historically associated with the hunting of Africa‘s “big five” game (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros), and with tigers and rhinoceroses on the Indian subcontinent. Along with the big five animals, many other species are hunted including kudu, antelope, and hartebeest. Moose, elk, bear, mountain lion, caribou, bison and deer are the largest game hunted in North America, which is where most big-game hunting is conducted today.
Big-game hunting is conducted in Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. In Africa, lion, Cape buffalo, elephant, giraffe and other large game animals are hunted. In North America, animals such as bear, wolf, caribou, moose, elk, boar, sheep and bison are hunted. In South America, deer and other species are hunted. In Europe, sheep, boar, goats, elk, deer, and other species are hunted. In Asia, several species of deer, bear, sheep and other species are hunted. In Australia, several species of deer and wild boar are hunted.
Hunting of big game for food is an ancient practice, dating back thousands of years. Based on cave paintings, it appears that early man hunted mammoth in groups, using a combination of spears or large rocks, or alternatively running the animal off a cliff.
Various big-game hunting methods have been developed over centuries. The main methods in use today are stalking, ambush (hunting from blinds), driving, trapping or a combination thereof. Calling and baiting may be used to increase the effectiveness of any method or combination.
The stalking method consists of following the animal until the kill can be made. Generally the hunter approaches the game stealthily – camouflaging his appearance, scent or sound depending on which sense is most likely to reveal him to his prey under the conditions. Stalks can routinely persist for days for certain game under certain conditions. Tracking game for stalking is a skill that has been learned by hunters since pre-historic times, and is used to with great success today.
The ambush method, including hunting from blinds, consists of setting up or finding means of cover or concealment to assist in reducing the likelihood of the game detecting the hunter as he waits in ambush or approaches his prey. Ground blinds, tree stands, cocking-cloths, dugout blinds, and stand-alone structures are all used as blinds in hunting today. All of these blinds are used in the ambush method. Cocking-cloths, or stalking blinds, are used in stalking prey but may still be considered as an ambush. Generally, baiting big-game includes the use of blinds; all the methods described herein may be used in combination.
Driving game, as a hunting method, is the act of directing the movement of the animal in order to kill it. Game may be driven to a trap; to a fall that will kill it, such as over a cliff; or to a position where the hunter may make the kill with his weapon. Driving is accomplished by sending an agent, usually dogs or people, through the terrain where the animal is believed to be, and making enough noise or using other devices to push the animal to move in the desired direction.
The use of vehicles in stalking and driving game can increase the hunter’s range and speed, and therefore, his effectiveness. Vehicles may also be used as blinds. Ground and air vehicles have been used in hunting big game, both for scouting game location and for the stalk.
Portable weapons used for big-game hunting include firearms, bow and arrow, spears, atlatls, and other longer-range weapons, as well as close-range, handheld weapons like hammers, axes, knives and other bladed weapons.
By far the most common weapon used by hunters is the firearm, and among firearms the most common weapon is the long-barreled rifle. Other firearms, such as shotguns and handguns, are also used in big-game hunting.
Large-caliber ammunition is considered to be most effective in taking down large game effectively and humanely. Big-game hunting ethics require a clean, humane kill, and most hunters work diligently toward this end. Advances in ammunition and the guns to match have made longer-range kills of big game possible with margins of error considered tolerable. Some common calibers and types of ammunition for big-game hunting include .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum, and .358 Winchester. The calibers and types of ammunition, and the firearms to shoot them, are numerous, and the science of ballistics is continuously improving to allow hunting in a tremendous variety of situations. Bullet weight and shape, cartridge size, powder load and type, and virtually every other variable of firearms ammunition is continuously changing.
Bow and arrow hunting is popular and effective among skilled hunters for big game. There is a variety of types of bows available, including long bows, short bows, recurve bows, compound bows and crossbows, all made of various materials. Arrows are also made from various materials including wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber and others. Arrowheads have different configurations and materials as well.
Famous big-game hunters
- W.D.M. Bell (later known as “Karamojo” Bell), Scottish born elephant hunter
- John Henry Patterson (killed the Tsavo Man-Eaters)
- Frederick Russell Burnham (Lord Roberts’ Chief of Scouts in the Second Boer War and known as: England’s American Scout)
- Bror von Blixen-Finecke (who was, between 1914 and 1926, married to Out of Africa author Karen Blixen)
- Denys Finch-Hatton (who was, after her marriage collapsed, Karen Blixen’s lover)
- T.R.M. Howard (civil rights leader, entrepreneur, surgeon, mentor to Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer, hunted African big game in the 1960s and 1970)
- John A. Hunter
- Philip Percival
- Frank M. “Bunny” Allen, whose safaris with Ernest Hemingway led the author to write Green Hills of Africa, True at First Light, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro
- Theodore Roosevelt, US President who travelled and hunted in Africa following his terms in office
- Frederick Selous
- Peter Hathaway Capstick, American hunter who spent most of his life in Africa
- Bali Mauladad, the only non-white to be admitted to the East African Professional Hunter’s Association
- Britain’s King George V hunted in Nepal in 1911.
- The fictional villain Colonel Sebastian Moran in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes stories is described as a reputed, highly successful big-game hunter in India, specializing in tigers.
- Ibrahim of Johor who began shooting in the summer of 1897 and by 1898 killed his first tiger on foot.
- Jim Corbett, author of Man-Eaters of Kumaon
- Samuel Baker
- Kenneth Anderson 1910–1974, hunter and writer of Nine Maneaters And One Rogue (1954)
EROP#509 HUNT THE ESTATE
By S. L. Merriam
The big bull elk, a royal 6×6, still sporting August’s lustrous velvet had avoided me during three hard days of hunting but allowed a few lucky moments where I enjoyed three chance sightings. The heavy timber and rocky ridges of the Estate provided sufficient cover to allow his four legs to out maneuver my two bone tired limbs each and every time we got close. I thought this hunt might be easy but my optimism about any chance for quick success began to fade in direct proportion to the growth of blisters on my feet. I had hunted all my life for elk and had never managed to see a bull this big, let alone have a chance of displaying such large antlers above my fireplace.
As my frustration grew the clock kept ticking, winding down to the last afternoon of my hunt. The results so far were lopsided with a score of the bull three and hunter zero. After each encounter I started mumbling, “All I have to do is to win once, just once.” The missed encounters made it increasing difficult to sort out the optimism from the screaming pain centered in my knees and back. I was learning the country was far from inviting for human hunters and probably better suited for a mountain lion. It took some effort to remain optimistic and focused on the thought that if everything worked, without a catch, I still had one more chance, one small window of opportunity to be successful.
Having spent the first three days learning the layout of the Estate and looking at the many areas that would hold a big bull I put all my last afternoon’s focus onto the four water holes. The sign in the soft dirt around the edges showed the big bull had been using each of them to cool off in the late August heat and slake his thirst. Later on, in mid September, he would be wading out into the water on a regular basis to lie down and wallow, which would cool his rut-heated body and stink up the mud with the musky smell of an overheated bull. For now all I could do was take a wild guess as to which one he would choose.
The odds of guessing the correct place to set up were just one in four so I opted for the north pond. This water source was evidently spring fed and the excess spilled over one end to form a small swampy area that showed signs of early season wallowing. If the big guy was starting to get the least bit excited over the prospect of his cows coming into heat and needed to wallow in the cooling mud, odds were he’d use this spot. I came into a patch of cover with the wind in my face and the sun behind me then concealed myself with camouflage while wearing the required blaze orange. Once in a comfortable position with clearance to bring the rifle into shooting position I set my binoculars close by and lay the rifle across my knees. Hoping the big bull was starting to get excited over pre-estrous cows, I tried a cow call every 15 minutes hoping to entice him into investigating the sound.
After an hour of calling there was a movement; a set of brown legs crossed through the shadows in the heavy timber. As the animal passed between two huge trees where a shaft of sunlight created a single lighted area, the bottom half of a light colored body became visible then stopped before stepping into the clearing. It was a stale mate. From where it stopped the elk could turn and quickly disappear leaving me with the fourth brief confrontation of the week. Number four would unfortunately be my last; the sun was getting close to the horizon behind my blind, and when it became dark my hunt was over. The second option was for the elk to continue across the shadows and become visible. If he chose the latter I could see if he was the Royal 6×6 that had consumed the last three days of my hunt.
I didn’t record how long the stalemate lasted but without an actual cow standing in the open to lure him from the shadows, he finally spooked. When he turned I saw enough to identify velvet-covered antlers, branching into six points on a side as the bull passed through a small opening in the timber. I though, “It’s him! It’s him!”
Without a conscious effort on my part the rifle jumped into position and quickly found the bull’s front leg and body in the scope. The sun setting behind me forced enough light into the timber so I could make out the complete body still back in the shadows. Now my hands and fingers went into auto-mode. Time spent practicing diligently over the years made the motion of aiming and shooting an automatic response; the cross hairs aligned, the safety slipped off and my finger began to tighten on the trigger. All that was left was to apply the final tension and when the crosshairs were perfect and the 7MM Magnum roared, sending the 175-grain bullet across the 190 yards opening. I heard the bullet hit as the bull disappeared from sight.
It’s funny how the sequence of events in tense hunting situations seem to register in your mind that they were happening in slow motion because when I worked the bolt to shoot again I remember catching a glimpse of the empty cartridge flipping off to my right as a crisp, clean round loaded into the warm chamber.
The whole sequence took just seconds but when I looked through the scope again the woods were empty. There was no sign of the bull. Did I miss my chance at the best elk I had ever seen? Worse yet, did I wound a magnificent animal?
I slipped out of the makeshift blind and quickly covered the distance to where the bull disappeared, staying next to the thick cover to shield my travel so the elk would not spot movement if still in the area. As I cleared the thickest cover and was able to see the spot where the elk had been, there he was lying in the low swale. He had not moved and lay in the same spot where he had disappeared!
This majestic animal had taken me to my limit and won three out of four chance encounters. It was truly a hard won battle, which I will cherish as I enjoy one of the best trophies of my life. The hunt that I thought would be a walk in the park, turned out to be one of the most challenging adventures I have endured. After this experience how could an Estate hunt be termed anything other than exciting?
An Estate is defined as: “An estate comprises the houses and outbuildings and supporting farmland and woods that surround the gardens and grounds of a very large property”
Estate hunting on the grounds of a large property is a practice that has become controversial among many hunters especially when a person is a strict adherent to the concept of Fair Chase. The Boone and Crockett Club as well as Pope and Young and the Longhunters Society, which keep records for North American big game, all require animals entered into their records to be taken under the rules of Fair Chase. This is defined as not being taken in high fence enclosures.
Estate hunting takes place in a controlled environment which is bounded by high fence to keep quality animals on the property and trespassers out. While Fair Chase is the universally accepted method of hunting among sport hunters the concept of high fence – or Estate hunting – is acceptable to folks without the time and often the physical ability to hunt open, rugged country. While high fence hunting has both pros and cons the concept is carried out in at least 30 states and Canada.
However, game fences and high fence hunting, where legal, are increasing at a rate too fast to ignore. While some hunters have taken the hard-line approach and will not accept or acknowledge any animal taken behind a game fence the facts are that the concept and application of this type management is increasing. While some fenced operations are too small to be ethically sporting one should be warned not to confuse this type operation with genuine hunting.
Add to the debate a changing society and land use policies, which makes game fences a practical solution to problems that do not have anything to do with the quality of the hunt. A common reason for a high fence operation is to protect breeding stock be it quality whitetails in the states or kudu in South Africa. Habitat that can support quality animals is no longer the large expanse of land it once was. Add to that, neighboring property owners who have no problem taking wandering animals you have worked diligently to produce. Management objectives can only be met by protecting valuable breeding stock which means a truly effective management program can only be conducted behind wire.
In addition to solving management problems Estate hunting can be both ethical and provide a solution to time and physical ability problems some folks must deal with.
Estate hunting offers thrill of the hunt, without sacrificing creature comforts urban residents have come to expect in places where only rugged outdoorsmen once ventured. Accommodations on Estate hunts are far from the typical hunting set-up using a trailer, tent, or ill-equipped house on a deer lease. Estate hunts allow participants to experience the thrill of the hunt without sacrificing comfortable quarters at the end of the day. These hunts can provide safe, exciting, memorable experiences that are ideal for a family with different aged children as well as and skill levels. For people with limited mobility or special needs and people with only a weekend to hunt rather than a full week or season the estate hunt is tailored to their needs.
Estate hunting usually includes deluxe lodging, guiding services, and meat preparation. The enclosures or high fence operations range in size from one square mile of heavy foliage to enclosures in Texas that cover 35,000 acres. The hunts are open to everyone and provide an opportunity for a person with an unfulfilled lifelong dream of taking a specific species after the hunter has reached the age where covering rugged country becomes impossible. It is an excellent choice for a handicapped individual or youth and is often the destination for groups like SHOTS; Sports People Helping Others Through Sharing. SHOTS Inc. is a 501c 3 Non-profit charity that works to exemplify the image of sportsmen and women with integrity, along with promoting compassion and conservation and provides hunts at no cost to handicapped youth.
The hunter that purchases an Estate hunt will have the service of a guide or guides that will accommodate individual skill levels such as wheel chair bound individuals by using a ground blind to conceal the hunter from traveling elk or deer.
Estate hunting is not for everyone nor was it intended to be a replacement for Fair Chase hunting. Rather it is an
option for hunters with special circumstances that still want to enjoy time afield with a reasonable chance of success.
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Conference Phone line 305-848-8888, room number “1117461214#”
Web Page for Vouchers This is the Link to the land Owner Voucher List
Conference Phone line 305-848-8888, room number “1117461214#”
Web Page for Vouchers https://discountedhunts-public.sharepoint.com/Pages/Landowner-Vouchers-Tags-.aspx
Conference Phone line 305-848-8888, room number “1117461214#”
Web Page for Vouchers This is the Link to the land Owner Voucher List
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