LAS VEGAS — What makes elk special? As the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s annual convention and expo opened its doors Feb. 2 for a three-day run in Las Vegas, a quick survey of early attendees revealed diverse opinions.
“Elk are special because they live in America’s prettiest places.”
“A bull’s bugle makes the hair stand up on the back my neck!”
And this gem from a biologist: “They’re among the more charismatic of North American mega-fauna.
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But if you’re an average big-game hunter, chances are you love to hunt whitetails — but you dream of hunting elk. Of riding a horse into the high country through golden aspens and rugged, snow-capped peaks. Of wall tents and campfires. Of hunting hard; of hunting well. And of leading a string back down the mountain with a giant set of antlers and four heavy quarters lashed to the packsaddles.
Elk represent perhaps the best opportunity for an average hunter to get out, all on his own, and experience a classic Western big-game hunt.
Odds of drawing a moose, sheep or mountain goat tag can be depressingly remote. Cougar and caribou are nearly impossible without an outfitter. Wolf hunting is still in its infancy. Mule deer, bear and pronghorn are options, but there’s just something about elk.
Big, tough, handsome, wily, vocal, abundant — and widely available to hunters — they’re also superstars on the dinner table.
Elk are keeping the dream alive.
This weekend, elk also are the motivation behind three days of RMEF Elk Camp auctions, raffles, rallies and an exposition to raise money for habitat conservation. That effort, in turn, will benefit all the species that live in elk country.
That kind of inspiration makes elk not just special.
It makes them extraordinary.
Opening Night Celebrations
During opening ceremonies on the first night of Elk Camp, RMEF members celebrated two important achievements of the past year. First was completion of a four-year project to secure wildlife habitat and public access on 10,386 acres of forestlands by transferring it from Plum Creek Timber Co. to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Second was restoring a wild elk herd in Missouri. In 2011, the first wild elk roamed, and the first elk calf was born in the Ozarks in over 150 years. Congratulations!
RMEF membership has swelled to an all-time high of 184,135. That total, posted at the end of December, is 6,135 members more than year-end 2010. It is the fourth straight year that RMEF has finished with a membership record.
With elk season 2011 now saved to your brain’s M-drive, RMEF is asking hunters to think about the country where they hunted, how it’s changed through the years and how it’s likely to change in the future. Here are RMEF’s Top 5 signs that your elk hunting area may need more intensive habitat stewardship:
1. Habitat Fragmentation—Poorly planned subdivisions and ranchettes are eliminating or cutting off key habitat, particularly winter range and migration corridors.
2. Weeds Amok—Knapweed, yellow starthistle, cheatgrass and other invasive weeds are consuming the West. These noxious exotics kill or displace native forage plants.
3. Sick Forests—Years of fire suppression and lack of forest management have yielded dense, choked timber stands piled high with deadfall and prone to massive beetle infestations and catastrophic wildfire.
4. Vanishing Meadows and Aspen Stands—Fire suppression has also allowed pinyon, juniper, fir and other evergreens to overtake meadows and aspen stands. The resulting shade shrivels understory plants, cutting available forage for elk by up to 90 percent.
5. Lack of Water—Because of persistent drought in much of the West, many traditional watering holes are drying up earlier in the year. Elk must abandon historic ranges and follow the water to survive.
Since launching in 1984, RMEF has helped address these and other habitat issues on more than 6 million acres.
Vegan in Vegas
For vegetarians, it’s a perfect time to be in Vegas. With thousands of decidedly avid carnivores here for Elk Camp, plus thousands more at the Safari Club International convention across town, there’s no waiting at any Las Vegas-area salad bar!
At the Elk Camp expo hall, hunters were introduced to Federal Premium’s new Vital-Shok Trophy Copper bullets for big-game hunting. Federal says the alloy bullets offer better accuracy, penetration, expansion and, just as importantly, budget friendliness than other copper bullets. Look for the boxes with the RMEF logo. Each sale supports the organization’s work in elk country.
Spotted today at Elk Camp: Co-host Brandon Bates of “RMEF Team Elk,” voted Fan Favorite Best New Series on Outdoor Channel, Lee and Tiffany Lakosky of “The Crush” on Outdoor Channel, and Craig Morgan of “All Access Outdoors” on Outdoor Channel. Morgan, a country music sensation, also was the featured entertainer on opening night.