JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Jackson Hole’s elk herd is iconic. Legendary.
The Jackson elk herd is the largest in the state at around 11,000 animals, and the annual count always generates a lot of interest. The National Elk Refuge winters the largest concentration of elk in the herd making it both impressive and challenging for big game managers. It takes an interagency effort involving some 20 people to complete a head count of wapiti every winter.
This year, 8,900 elk were counted on feed on the National Elk Refuge, with another 1,900 or so tallied on the Gros Ventre feedgrounds, adjacent winter ranges, and in Buffalo Valley—bringing the total observed elk population to 10,800. The number is close enough for management agencies to call the herd at population objectives.
Winter is typically the time when wildlife managers conduct their big game surveys because animals are concentrated on winter ranges, making them easier to count. Counts are conducted from both the ground and the air. Managers not only count the total number of animals, but also classify them as males, females and young of the year.
Jackson Wildlife Biologist Aly Courtemanch and Jackson Game Warden Jon Stephens conducted five days of big game classifications in the North Jackson area via helicopter. Due to severe winter conditions and deep snow, most ungulates were concentrated at low elevations and very visible from the air.
Surveys indicate that the Jackson bighorn sheep herd is stable. The Jackson bison herd is at its population objective due to a hunting season where 98 percent of bison hunters were successful.
A total of 504 bison were counted on supplemental feed on the National Elk Refuge; 42 more buffalos were found wintering near Spread Creek and Uhl Hill in Grand Teton National Park.
A total of 327 moose were counted during the survey, nearly 100 more than last year. This is mostly due to high visibility of moose that are concentrated in willow riparian areas instead of forested areas this year. The moose calf to cow ratio increased again this year with 46 calves per 100 cows, which is encouraging to wildlife managers.