Special thanks to WGFD’s Mark Gocke for compiling this story.
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Like virtually all big game, most elk typically show pretty solid fidelity to their seasonal ranges each year, but that is not always the case.
Last winter, the bulk of the 2,500 or so elk that have traditionally wintered in the Gros Ventre drainage went elsewhere. Most went down drainage to the National Elk Refuge, but others went to the Dubois area to the northeast, the Upper Green to the east, and even the Bondurant area to the south.
This information was all verified through radio-collared animals. While it’s not unusual for a few animals to try out different seasonal ranges now and then, it was unusual to have virtually all the elk in the Gros Ventre vacate their traditional winter range.
Given this, local Game & Fish managers decided to increase monitoring of these elk in a variety of ways.
First, remote cameras were set up at known migration bottle necks to document elk moving back into the Gros Ventre summer range, primarily animals that wintered down drainage at the National Elk Refuge. Approximately, 2,000 elk were documented returning to the upper Gros Ventre.
Next, additional aerial flights were scheduled, which also documented these elk movements back into the Gros Ventre
Finally, more animals were fitted with GPS collars to provide a clearer picture of elk movements throughout the year. This past November, 18 cow elk were helicopter net-gunned and collared throughout the Gros Ventre drainage, and some additional collars were put on elk in December, bringing the total to 24 cow elk currently being tracked through regular GPS locations.
So far, 18 (75%) of these monitored elk are still in the Gros Ventre with 10 of those currently at the Fish Creek feedground at the far upper end of the drainage. The other six (25%) GPS-collared elk have headed for the National Elk Refuge.
This data also reflects what managers are seeing on the ground with the bulk of the elk currently at the Fish Creek feedground with smaller groups at the Patrol Cabin and Alkali feedgrounds, and another portion wintering out on native winter range west of Crystal Creek and north of Slide Lake.
This year’s elk distribution more closely reflects what managers would expect to see based on recent years.