The Rocky Mountain elk is found in all of western Montana and much of Central Montana. During the hot summer months, elk live fairly high in the mountains at elevations up to 10,000 feet and higher. In late fall, most elk migrate down the mountain slopes to areas of lower elevation and less snowfall. During the winter, elk congregate in valley bottoms and forage on south-facing slopes. Winter habitat for elk is referred to as winter range and the availability of winter range is critical to the survival of this big game species as it is to all other big game species.
The elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) is one of the largest species of deer in the world and one of the largest land mammals in North America. In the deer family only the larger moose which is called an “elk” in Europe, and the sambar (Rusa unicolor) rival the elk in size. The Rocky Mountain Elk is smaller in body than the Roosevelt elk. Mature bulls average about 700 pounds, while mature cows average around 500 pounds. The antlers of the Rocky Elk are generally longer and slimmer than the Roosevelt, but have a greater spread. Rockies do not “crown,” while Roosevelts usually do “crown” after the fourth tine.
The elk mating season is called the rut and it begins in early September. A bull elk will bugle to announce his presence to cows and to warn away other bulls. As the rut begins, cows and calves form smaller herds called harems. These harems are joined by mature bulls, one of which will emerge as the dominant bull and control the harem. Although yearling bulls are sexually mature, they usually do not breed because of the presence of larger males. These young bulls will not form harems but may try to remain with an older bull with cows, possibly mating with one while the dominant bull is preoccupied. Breeding is over by mid-October, and bulls become more solitary. Elk calves are born in the months of May and June and the calves weigh approximately 30 pounds at birth. Cows normally have only one calf per year and twins are rare.
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