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Any insight as to why the elk herd selects a particular sage covered ridge during all our snow storms? They skyline themselves i

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  • Any insight as to why the elk herd selects a particular sage covered ridge during all our snow storms? They skyline themselves i

    Any insight as to why the elk herd selects a particular sage covered ridge during all our snow storms? They skyline themselves in what you would think is one of the colder places on earth. There doesn't seem to be a good food source, water is 1/2 mile away, shelter is out of the question and you could sneak up on them by playing the wind rather easily. I just don't know if I'm missing something, or if they're not a particularly bright creature..

  • #2
    PHW if you have wolves in the area they may be looking for a spot where they can see when the wind makes it tough to hear.
    Maybe the wind keeps the snow depths lower there?
    1/2 mile is like walking down the driveway for an elk and they are pretty impervious to weather that would freeze a human.
    They may not be bright but they have a way of making us look stupid!
    Otherwise sounds like you may have found a honey hole for future seasons when you know snow is going to happen. Gotta love that.
    When I lived in CO we took multiple elk out of one park. Especially if you had fresh snow you could bet on them being there. They never did say why though

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    • #3
      If the ridge is covered with sage, then there is a food source.
      Sometimes the wind whipping across a ridge will keep vegetation cleared of snow. No digging required!

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      • #4
        While I agree with the wind blown theory (and I understand it's much easier for me to theorize having seen the location a hundred times) there is ALOT of wind blown range here, and the elk go there twice a week or more, sometimes in numbers up over 500!! So there cannot be much left by way of feed...For anyone who is interested in the quality of animals we have here on the ranch I would recommend that you go to our neighboring ranch's website. I believe if you search for "wagonhound" ranch in the Douglas,Wy area it will give you a website. From there just look for their outfitting link and you can see some photos of animals pulled from our herd. Thanks for the thoughts guys!

        Chuckles- as for the wolves, we do have them although our numbers are low. I might say low enough as to where most haven't seen or heard them in the area. A few of are other hands have seen them, but VERY rarely. Nothing like the northern WY and Montana population.

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        • #5
          I am not a Elk hunter but I would guess they feel safer there than in the timber, plus they can find one another easy and the bull can keep track of his harem. I don't think the wind bothers them and I noticed in the video the bull was looking around in all directions for threats.
          I watched the YouTube video of 'Wagonhound', that is some gigantic operation. Looks like it is very well run and those horses are amazing. And all that is in God's Country. Life is good.

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          • #6
            I agree with FirstBubba, no snow, no digging for food. They must have found a spot with good visibility for predators and good escape routes to cover as well.

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            • #7
              They won't eat sagebrush. Might be a mineral deposit up there that they are after.

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              • #8
                Actually, the large variety of sage brush (there are, I believe, seven varieties where I hunt in Montana) would provide the elk with some protection from the wind if they lay down in it, more so than say ponderosa pine. The pine, as you know, does not grow to the ground but is a canopy type tree allowing the wind to blow through at ground level. It also shades out competing ground cover species like sage brush. The draws might afford wind protection but there the ek are more vulnerable to predation, particularly by the big cats. Problem with finding shelter in a hole is the elk have to climb out of it if pursued. The snow also drifts in the draws and that is what catches elk for the cats.

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                • #9
                  Jimbo, no harems this time of year. Breeding is done by October. But the elk will still be herded up through winter for safety's sake. Because they are so large and remain with the herd, bulls keep their antlers probably the latest of all the deer species (sometimes till March!). They will use them to push cows and calves off the choicest feed. I've watched them do it many times. And they need to, having expended so much fat during the rut.

                  And similarly, because moose are solitary animals, they have no other use for their antlers once the final rut ends in mid-December and they usually loose them very quickly. I have known several incidents up here where hunters pulling out moose with snow machines in December have popped off an antler. They're usually dropped in January.

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                  • #10
                    O.H. , I think you are right about minerals and licks, I have seen elk and deer stay or frequent an area that appears for no reason, and then I see them pay a lot of attention to licks, they might not be "smart" like we think, but their instincts are second to none, where as us humans have no sense what so ever......;-)

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                    • #11
                      All about location, location, location. Elk and deer will pick spots to bed that provide security via visibility, etc., proximity to feed and water, and warmer spots during cold weather and likewise cool spots in warmer weather. Nothing for elk to trot 9 or 10 miles to feed or water and return. Elk comfort zone with winter coat is from about -9 to +43 F. Hard to tell how the wind is just below the crest of a ridge, but if you study fluid dynamics and air flow, you will see there are eddys and boundary layers in sometimes unexpected places. Elk may like the ground swept of snow and the rocks/dirt may be absorbing heat from the sun, etc. Hard to say about the wind unless you go up there and walk around the area and see where the wind swirls. Hang around elk country long enough and you will figure it out :-)

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                      • #12
                        i noticed elk in the summer months bedded on ridge line areas to, i think what it offers them is the ability to run from predators, up or down also they are playing the wind. in the mountains its about the up draft and down drafting, typically happening at night and in the morning and at dusk. away from the ridge in either direction and they miss smelling one of them

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                        • #13
                          Thanks for the thoughts guys, I agree with parts of each post. In all honesty I do understand that elk are not dumb creatures.
                          Some of the winds they are in atop of said ridge are upwards of 50 mph, while the temperature is single digits or negatives! There is NO wind break by eye, but maybe a hike to the top during the winds will give me an answer.
                          Sadly the place I'm asking about is more of a wintering ground than my new hunting territory. They're here because they've moved down from our high country to nearer head-quarters. They big cat and minerals in the dirt theories have me intrigued because of our lime deposits in the hills and our lion problems were having with the mule-deer herd.
                          The only bulls were seeing with the herds this time of year are spikes and rag horns, the mature bulls have moved off to be alone. 370-390 bulls aren't uncommon here on the ranch. That's why learning all I can between observation and nagging you gents with questions is on my new years priority list!

                          RJ A- In the animal world the stupid are killed off, but in the human world theyre protected. Go figure...

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                          • #14
                            And another reason elk bed down on open ridges in the winter: that's where the sun shines. It helps warm them up.

                            It was always my experience that elk tend to bed down very close to where they feed. I hunted only mountain elk and could tell from their tracks if they were even contemplating feeding or bedding down. Elk seldom bed down in the middle of an open park where they have been feeding ... if they can avoid it (can't be avoided if the entire mountain has been burned off or cut down). They will bed in the timber just off the edge of the open area. If it's real cold they almost always bed down on the north or east side of the clearing. Can you tell me why? Go ahead and try "peeking" for the answer but I'm betting you won't find it on the net.

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                            • #15
                              OH - if I were to use my own geography to answer that I was say because they were commonly in the lee side of the hill, being that our prevailing wind is SW. But another guess might be they are eating moss or lichen off of the trees (which tends to grow on the damp or north side of a tree?

                              Shucks* I just re-read your trivia question( I thought you asked why they bed on the north side of a hill*

                              I would tend to say that bedding on a north or north east side of a clearing would not only give them a good scent wind ( if Montana has the same prevailing wind as Wyoming), but also that they are parking themselves in the corner of the clearing that receives the most light , for the longest amount of time?

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