Wisconsin Elk Study Progress Report from Dr. Ray Anderson, a professor at UW-Stevens Point and Project Director.
Wisconsin’s elk survived the 1996 gun deer hunting season without incident; and as many as 16 cows could give birth to calves this spring, according to researchers monitoring the experimental herd.
Researchers are hoping for a successful calving period. Two calves, born last spring, the first to be conceived and born in Wisconsin during this study, were both doing well.
“The rut developed well last fall,” said lead researcher, Prof. Ray Anderson. “The three bulls that were yearlings during the 1995 rut went into the 1996 rut as 3×3 or 4×4 bulls at age two. They displayed more intense breeding behavior as indicated by their bugling and attendance to the main herd of cows.”
The two older bulls were each with single adult cows.
The two calves that were born last year were still alive in December. At least three youngsters from the 1995 calving (following the herd’s release) are also known to be still alive. One of these, a yearling bull last year, was in the Springbrook region southwest of Hayward during and after the gun deer season. He was missing last winter but returned to spend the summer with his mother.
The rifle and bow seasons passed without injury to elk. The herd was monitored before, during and after the hunts. Deer hunting camps on the study area were visited before opening day to remind hunters that elk were present. Hunters were also interviewed in the field. All hunters were aware of the elk study in their area and used caution in identifying targets.
Three groups of elk were monitored intensively, and two others periodically, during the season. Hunting activities, including drives, standing, and still-hunting, caused an abnormal, relatively minor movement of only two bull elk, said Anderson. These bulls left the main herd of 18 elk and moved approximately two miles to the south. They stayed in those isolated areas and then rejoined the original group the day after the season closed.
One hunter was aggressively nudged with the 5×6 antlers of adult bull No. 23 while he was on a stand early in the morning of opening day. He fired his rifle into the ground, next to the other bull to get it to leave. Neither the hunter nor the bull was injured.
Nearly all of the elk returned to the same winter range that they had occupied during the winter of 1995-96. Cow No. 14 (The Hurley Lady) is still with the main herd of 18 elk that is within two miles of the release site.
The elk also occupied the same summer range in 1996 as they did in 1995. This two-year pattern is an encouraging indication that their seasonal habitat needs are being met within the study area.
Their travel route between ranges was also the same this year. That created a potential hazard for motorists and the elk that summered north of Hwy. 77 as they moved four miles south to their winter range near the release site. The elk were near the highway for two weeks. They were seen often by motorists and enthusiastic observers.
The parked cars presented the greatest hazard. The Department of Transportation is preparing warning signs to alert motorists to the area where the elk regularly crossed the highway.
Two major logging operations are underway near the elk this winter. The elk’s reaction to this activity is being monitored, but thus far, logging does not appear to be influencing their behavior.
Most of the elk once again sought lowland conifer areas for winter quarters. White cedar and mountain maple are preferred by the elk. Thermal differences between the interior of these conifer stands and open areas is significant. On Jan.16, when ambient temperature was 19 degrees below zero in the open, it was 6 degrees below zero inside the conifer stand. Snow depths were 29.5 and 21.3 inches inside and outside of the conifer stands, respectively, on the same date. The bitter cold of last winter has not returned so far.
[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user cmlburnett]