Elk populations are being more challenged than ever. Survival is harder and different than years ago. With the introduction of wolves, protections for mountain lions, and bears, it is harder for wild game to survive the predator prey challenge.
Hunters get to harvest elk, a few months each year. The rest of the predator world can hunt year around. Packs of wolves become hunting machines as the weather, snow, and lack of antlers make elk more vulnerable.
Research has shown that wolves seem to target antlerless bulls more than other elk. Bulls that lose antlers early end up out of the gene pool. Antlers allow solitary bulls to protect themselves. A wise bull, with antlers, can defend themselves effectively against wolves.
The genetic characteristics have changed. Since early shedders end up in the food chain, late shedders survive and reproduce longer. Bow hunters may also notice fewer bugling bulls. Bulls that are getting called in, and killed, no longer reproduce. Warier, and less talkative, bulls seem to be the future survivors.
Elk also tend to stay in larger herds and groups longer. This provides additional protection against predators. Eventually, the satisfied cows kick the bulls out of the herd after mating. It is then that bulls become more vulnerable to predators. It is not uncommon to see bull elk carrying antlers until April. Once the antlers shed, a new pair immediately begins to grow from their pedicle, or antler base on their heads.
Later shedding may also reduce the annual growth of antlers in general. Antlers end up having a later start to their growing season. Bulls can be older and just have average racks. Antlers can grow up to 1 ½ inches a day in prime summer feeding times, but there are only so many days in a year.
Big racks will not be quite as big!
For more Montana Grant, hunt him up at www.montanagrantfishing.com.