Elk ready to hit refuge as soon as hunt ends
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: December 13, 2012
Out of gunshot reach and hidden from view, some 3,000 wapiti roam the hillsides flanking the National Elk Refuge.
The herd is waiting out a refuge hunt that ends Sunday. The animals will likely move to the refuge in great numbers as soon as the shooting stops, refuge biologist Eric Cole said.
“We had 2,500 elk briefly on the south end of the refuge on Dec. 9, however the average number this week has been just 200,” Cole said Wednesday. “Depending on snow conditions, it won’t take long at all for elk to begin congregating on the south end of the refuge.”
Radio-collar data show that elk from all four summer herd segments — Grand Teton National Park, the Teton Wilderness, southern Yellowstone and the Gros Ventre Mountains — are now close to the refuge, Cole said. The 3,000 animals are about a quarter of the estimated 11,900 in the Jackson elk herd and nearly half of the refuge’s wintering population
For the next four days, the elk will loiter in hunt-free reaches of the Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east of the refuge, Cole said. The herd has been averse to the refuge except at night, when it will sometimes venture to lower elevations, he said.
“Elk have been disturbed by hunters almost as quickly as they arrive,” Cole said.
Despite high demand for refuge tags, which are available by lottery, the hunters have had little luck, the biologist said.
Through Sunday, hunters had killed just 50 elk, a number Cole said was “considerably lower” than is typical for mid-December. But reports from hunters could show some late-season success, he said.
“Harvest rates have increased in recent days, but those reports haven’t been turned in yet,” Cole said.
Still, with just four days of hunting left, Cole said he expects a low harvest.
Through Sunday, there were 34 pronghorn grazing the Poverty Flats portion of the refuge. The fleet of ungulates typically embarks on its lengthy migration by now. When they stick around, pronghorn often succumb to coyotes or winter conditions at high elevation.
“A migration is not impossible, but it’s becoming increasingly unlikely,” Cole said of the pronghorn.
Bison, also leery of the refuge hunt, haven’t appeared on the elk refuge in significant numbers since August. They typically begin to arrive for the winter in late December, Cole said.