Illinois Outdoors at
RulesIllinois Outdoors at

Prairie State Outdoors Categories

Top Story :: Opinion :: Illinois Outdoor News :: Fishing News :: Hunting News :: Birding News :: Nature Stories :: Miscellaneous News :: Fishing :: Big Fish Fridays :: Big Fish Stories :: State Fishing Reports :: Other Fishing Reports :: Fishing Tips, Tactics & Tales :: Where to Fish :: Fishing Calendar :: Hunting :: Hunting Reports :: Hunting Tips, Tactics & Tales :: Where to Hunt :: Tales from the Timber :: Turkey Tales :: Hunting Calendar :: Big Game Stories :: Nature and Birding :: Birding Bits :: Nature Newsbits :: Critter Corner :: Birding Calendar :: Stargazing :: In the Wild :: Miscellaneous Reports and Shorts :: Links :: Hunting Links :: Birding Links :: Video ::

Big Buck Stories

1960s :: 1980s :: 1991-92 :: 1992-93 :: 1993-94 :: 1994-95 :: 1995-96 :: 1997-98 :: 1998-99 :: 1999-2000 :: 2000-01 :: 2001-02 :: 2003-04 :: 2004-05 :: 2005-06 :: 2006-07 :: 2007-08 :: 2008-09 :: 2009-10 :: 2010-11 :: 2011-12 :: 2012-13 ::


Flathead's Picture of the Week :: Big bucks :: Birdwatching :: Cougars :: Dogs :: Critters :: Fishing :: Asian carp :: Bass :: Catfish :: Crappie :: Ice :: Muskie :: Humor :: Hunting :: Deer :: Ducks :: Geese :: Turkey :: Upland game :: Misc. :: Mushrooms :: Open Blog Thursday :: Picture A Day 2010 :: Plants and trees :: Politics :: Prairie :: Scattershooting :: Tales from the Trail Cams :: Wild Things ::

Illinois hunting and fishing

A bull elk tries to get the attrition of a cow elk at Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge about 60 miles northeast of Lewistown, Mont., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Great Falls Tribune, Larry Beckner)

Elk put on a show at Montana refuge

September 22, 2012 at 02:36 PM

The Associated Press

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Two bull elk, separated by about 30 yards, make eye contact and begin trotting toward each other.

A showdown’s brewing, whispers Bill Berg of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who’s watching the mano-a-mano from a nearby gravel road.

One of the bulls, in a show of bravado, scrapes his antlers on a bush, prompting the other to turn away. Before the heat of the breeding season ends, many more confrontations will occur, but not all of them will end as peacefully.

“They’ll fight until one of them is so worn out he just leaves,” Berg says.

Bow hunting season for elk is under way now. Rifle season begins Oct. 20.

But during the rut, hundreds of the state’s most beloved big-game animal regularly gather at the Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, where hunting is off-limits.

And the display of classic elk rut behavior, such as bulls bugling and fighting over cows, is increasingly becoming must-see viewing for both residents and out-of-state visitors interested in watching and photographing wild elk in their element rather than shooting them.

In 2011, 3,000 people made the trip to the Missouri River elk mecca, even though it’s located at the remote refuge far off the beaten path 70 miles northeast of Lewistown.

With elk consistently occupying the area in the fall, an intimate wildlife experience is almost the rule rather than the exception, and that draws a crowd.

“I see a big one!” 3-year-old Weston Sauby, standing in a pickup bed, binoculars trained on the herd, says one day earlier this week.

This year, his father, Nick Sauby of Billings, bow hunted five miles downriver from the elk viewing area, and bagged a 5-by-5 bull elk, “not huge but a trophy for me.” Even if he doesn’t get an elk, Sauby said, the opportunity to watch the prized animals from a stone’s throw away is a thrill, and he stopped to share the experience with his son.

In 2011, 950 vehicles were counted at the viewing area from Sept. 1 to mid-October, said Matt deRosier, manager of the CMR’s Sand Creek Wildlife Station.

Slippery Ann, he said, has become known as the most reliable place in Montana to consistently see elk up close, deRosier said.

“Nothing that’s even close,” he says.

Wildlife viewing is one of the FWS’ six priority offerings at wildlife refuges nationally, and the CMR elk viewing area fits the mission perfectly, deRosier said. He once talked to a couple that went on an African safari to view wildlife. The experience at Slippery Ann, they told him, was no less impressive.

On one recent chilly evening, 30 vehicles were parked along the road. Binoculars, not rifles, hung around the necks of visitors. Elk grazed as close as 50 to 60 yards away.

Visitors driving through Yellowstone can see elk, too, Berg notes, “But the ability to get right in amongst them like this place is hard to find.”

Between 3,000 and 5,000 elk occupy the 1.1 million-acre CMR and a perfect storm of factors draw elk to the 1,200-acre Slippery Ann.

For one, elk seem to know that the wildlife viewing area is off-limits to hunters.

Between 200 and 300 animals congregate there from late August to mid-October.

Elk also are drawn by the green river bottoms where they bed in the trees during the heat of the day before venturing into the open to graze on grasses and shrubs in the evening, within full view of the road, Berg said.

“It’s kind of an oasis in a very parched climate,” Berg said.

On a cool night, activity typically begins about two hours before sundown. Nightly shows are occurring now.

“When the bulls start to bugle, it can get pretty noisy,” Royetta Dvorak says.

Dvorak and her husband, Allen, have been the camp hosts at Slippery Ann for seven years. Each evening, they count elk and visitors.

They’ve already recorded license plates from 15 states this year.

Visitors often turn the elk viewing into a tail-gating party, with some people even setting up tables of wine and cheese, Royetta Dvorak says. Occasionally, visitors need to be warned not to move off the road in attempts to get a closer look at the elk.

“We tell them, ‘Just sit and they’ll come to you,’” she says.

Elk were all but gone from the Missouri River Breaks at the turn of the 20th century, done in by hunting pressure, but they were reintroduced from Yellowstone Park in 1951.

Today, the population is flourishing and known for its trophy bulls, which grow exceptionally large antlers because of the lush habitat provided by the Missouri River, which flows through an otherwise desert-like landscape that receives only 10 to 12 inches of annual precipitation. The ratio of 30 to 35 bulls per 100 cows in the Breaks is much higher than the ratio in other areas, Berg said.

The harsh climate at the refuge also is managed specifically for wildlife habitat and hunting requires a special permit as opposed to areas that are open to all hunters during the general season.

Both factors have aided the overall population, Berg said.

Elk often are associated with timbered habitat but the Breaks elk are one of the few remaining prairie elk populations in the country, making a trip to Slippery Ann a unique viewing opportunity because they can be easily spotted in open country, Berg said.

“It’s a little different than going up in the mountains and relying on hearing their bugle to determine their location,” Berg said.

As the sun began to set on a recent Wednesday evening, a few hundred cows and calves with a few young bulls sprinkled in the mix grazed just outside of a grove of trees.

The elk kept a constant watch on the people on the road. If anybody would have made a move to leave it, they would have run off, Berg said.

As the evening progressed, large antlers began to appear in the midst of the herd, seemingly out of thin air. The larger bulls had begun to make their appearance.

Bulls chased each other around at times but there were no major clashes.

Trash talking still was occurring as bulls arched their necks and emitted haunting bugles while cows and calves communicated with chirps and barks.

“It’s really interesting and beautiful to hear,” says Arleda Hopkins, a 65-year-old woman from Great Falls who was visiting for the first time with her brother, Amos First Raised of Fort Belknap, and sister Loretta Retan of Chinook.

First Raised noted the irony of having so many elk within his view. When he’s hunting, he said with a laugh, they’re usually “four miles away.”

“Hear ‘em but never see ‘em,” he says.

The bugling sound occurs when the bulls force air through their trachea producing a high-pitched squeal that serves as a means for males to show dominance or attract cows, Berg said.

The mix of varied pitches, squeals and grunts had a far-off quality akin to sounds of marine life communicating underwater.

Battles between the bulls can be spectacular with the antlers becoming spears to gouge the opponent or wrestling tools used to flip them on their side, Berg said. The biggest bulls divide up the cows into harems and are forced to constantly defend their herds from competitors.

A simple turn of the head to display the size of the antlers can drive off smaller foes, but it’s interesting to watch the change in the individual “herd bulls” as they are dethroned by challengers as the rut progresses, Berg said.

The fighting takes its toll.

By the time the breeding season is over, the ribs of some of the bulls inevitably will be showing while others will be limping.

“They get beat up pretty hard,” Berg said.

For visitors who stay past nightfall, it’s not uncommon to hear antlers clacking as bulls duel in the dark.

At dusk, Sterling Sundheim of Lewistown was standing on the side of the road with binoculars pointed at the brush in the distance watching the outline of a trophy elk that displayed what appeared to be a 6-by-6-point rack of antlers when it turned its head.

“It’s just fun to see ‘em,” Sterling says.

In the dark cab of the pickup, Sundheim’s brother, Joel, who is visiting from Washington, says he once took a trip to Yellowstone Park and never saw this many elk. The big bull, he surmises, is just waiting by himself in the wings before entering the fray, letting the younger bulls wear each other out.

“Yea, this is pretty neat,” Joel Sundheim says. “That’s a lot of meat standing out there.”


Information from: Great Falls Tribune,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Comment Area Pool Rules

  1. Read our Terms of Service.
  2. You must be a member. :: Register here :: Log In
  3. Keep it clean.
  4. Stay on topic.
  5. Be civil, honest and accurate.
  6. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Log In

Register as a new member

Next entry: WIU doctoral program to focus on river research

Previous entry: Grouse hunters in western states face fire danger

Log Out

RSS & Atom Feeds

Prairie State Outdoors
PSO on Facebook
Promote Your Page Too

News Archives

August 2019
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Copyright © 2007-2014 GateHouse Media, Inc.
Some Rights Reserved
Original content available for non-commercial use
under a Creative Commons license, except where noted.
Creative Commons