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Bull Elk – Magnificent Majestic Beauty
Elk are members of the deer family which comprises ( from largest to smallest ) moose, elk, caribou and deer. The bulls weigh from six hundred to eight hundred pounds or more. Elk have eyes on the sides of their head which lets them see in about any direction except behind them. Elk are large ungulates found in Europe, North America, New Zealand, and the Far East. They are highly flexible, prospering in a large range of environments. Elk now live as far east as Pennsylvania, where they were reintroduced in the early 1900s, and now more than seven hundred elk wander through forests in the north-central part of the state. Elk populations are also growing in other states where they had virtually vanished.
Elk can be pale grey, tan, or brownish to reddish in color, depending on the species. Bulls have a tendency to be lighter colored than cows. The pale rumped American elk called “wapiti”, which is Shawnee for “white rump”, are found in the woods, mountain meadows, foothills, plains, swamps, and coniferous forests of western North America. Elk are powerful and muscular. Bulls are some twenty five percent bigger than cows at maturity. Elk are one of the largest land animals in North America, and are the most common larger mammal found in Yellowstone National Park. They are herbivorous animals who can find lots of food in places where deer typically can’t. They consume an average of 20 pounds of food every day. Elk are ruminant animals, similar to cows, and therefore regurgitate their food and remasticate to help in digestion.
Elk grow antlers that provide a method of defense, as does a powerful front-leg kick, which is performed by either sex if incited. Antlers are made from bone which can grow up to one inch each day. Antlers that are in the growing stage are soft and workable and covered with hairy skin, which is called velvet. Elk shed their antlers starting in late February for the largest males, extending to late April and even early May for the younger ones. Every year they start growing new antlers again in summer. These antlers can weight up to 40 pounds and be up to 5 feet wide.
Elk also lose and replace their hair twice yearly, once in the spring and again in the autumn. They often roll in mud wallows to loosen their dead winter coats and help dislodge annoying parasites. Elk are best viewed at a distance, using binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up viewing.
Elk are primarily crepuscular, most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon. They are timber-oriented animals, preferring to be in the cool shade. Elk are social creatures. They live in summer herds with as many as four hundred others. Elk can live twenty years or longer in captivity, but average 10 to 14 years in natural habitats. Bulls often don’t live as long as cows, seldom exceeding twelve years.
Starting in the second autumn of their lives, cows generally give birth to a single fawn 8 1/2 months after mating. Calves are precocial, walking right after birth. They are born in late May or early June, and weigh between thirty and forty pounds when born, and 225 to 275 pounds when weaned about six months later. Calves are born with a protecting coloration of light spotted areas on the back which act as camouflage. They grow quickly and lose their spots by summer’s end. Cows often leave their newborn calves vulnerable while they go off to feed, and they fall prey to bobcats, coyotes, and the like.
Elk are generally passive animals and though human attacks are rare, they do happen. Elk are big, wild animals and can be deadly, particularly during rut. Antlers are an indication of strength and dominance among males and are used to lure females in the breeding season. Bulls are only territorial during the mating season and are otherwise not assertive toward other elk. Bulls pack on the weight in summer, then show small interest in feed and lose up to 40% of their body weight during the rut. Bull elk that enter the rut in poor condition are less certain to make it through to the peak conception period or have the strength to survive the severity of the approaching winter.
Bull elk are only capable of breeding from about August to January, and the cows cycle only in that same period. Bulls do not enter actively into the rut till they are about three years old, although they can breed for the 1st time as yearlings, at roughly sixteen months of age. Elk are harem breeders and can mate with as many as 50 cows in a season. There is some evidence that the females select the male. Elk by nature are gregarious at all seasons, but in spring and summer the old bulls often are solitary or in bachelor herds, and typically live apart a lot of the year.
Elk are the noisiest member of the deer family in North America. Bulls have a loud vocalization composed of screams known as bugling, which can be heard for miles. They vie for dominance through bugling, sparring, and chasing wannabe rivals away.
Elk are hunted as a game species, and are often subject to limited, legal sport hunting. Hunting has been utilized as an elk management system to keep the amount of elk in balance with their habitat. Hunting license charges make a contribution to elk research, and the acquisition of additional vital elk habitat.
Although elk are regarded as pests by many farmers, some farmers raise them commercially for hunting, meat production, and velvet collection. The beef for meat production is leaner and higher in protein than meat or chicken, but is typically tougher requiring marinating, grinding, or stewing. Bulls produce velvet each year with an average two-year-old male producing 9 pounds of velvet. The velvet is considered by some cultures to be an aphrodisiac. Western North America, and New Zealand are the home of many commercial elk farmers.
Whether you relish hunting them, eating them, or simply enjoying their majesty, magnificence, and beauty, all must admit that they add depth of appreciation to our lives.
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