Game & Fish tracking of elk movements confirms wapiti abandoned the Gros Ventre in winter ’17-18

JACKSON, Wyo. – Like most wildlife, elk are creatures of habit. Where they go, or don’t go, when migrating is largely a product of learned behavior and instinct. It is all fairly predictable for big game managers. Until it isn’t.

Most elk typically show pretty solid fidelity to their seasonal ranges each year, but that is not always the case. During the winter of 2017-18, for instance, nearly all 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 near Jackson, 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 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 unprecedented to have virtually all the elk in the Gros Ventre vacate their traditional winter range. The anomaly was noted by outfitters and individual hunters, many of whom blamed large wolf packs in that area. That may be part of the reason wapiti avoided the Gros Ventre. The fact is, elk adjusted.

Over the past three winters a total of 41 additional cow elk in the Gros Ventre drainage have been fitted with GPS collars. Photo: WGFD

Game & Fish managers continue to increase monitoring of these elk in a variety of ways, including remote cameras at known migration bottle necks, additional aerial flights and equipping cow elk with GPS collars to provide a clearer picture of elk movements throughout the year.

Over the past three winters a total of 41 additional cow elk in the Gros Ventre drainage have been fitted with GPS collars. Recently, Jackson Wildlife Biologist Aly Courtemanch put the animals’ year-round locations in motion to provide an animated picture of how these Gros Ventre elk have been using the landscape. It is an enlightening video Buckrail has included here.

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