Nature Notes banner


EDMUND B. ROGERS, Superintendent DORR G. YEAGER, Editor
Volume V JUNE 1932 Number VI

The American Elk

The American Elk or Wapiti, a member of the deer family, is the largest mammal in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is as majestic as it is large. There are few sights finer in the wilderness than a great bull with his full set of antlers, and there are few sounds that thrill the listener more than the clear, challenging bugle of the males as it rings through the frosty air, inviting all those who doubt his supremacy to battle.

The antlers are truly the crowning glory of this great animal. It is hard for many to realise that these large beams grow in a single year, but such is the case. In February, after all possible chance of combat is over, the antlers are broken or rubbed off at the base. Almost immediately the new growth begins, first as a red swelling which resembles a tomato, and later as a long protrubance which eventually branch. At this time the new antler is soft and tender and is richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels. It is covered with a thick coat of silky hair known as "the velvet." Long before fall the antlers harden, the velvet is rubbed off and the points are sharp and shiny for the fighting season. It is often said that the age of an elk can be told by the number of points on his antlers. This is not always the case, for often, after seven or eight years the animal ceases to add points.

The elk is the most polygamous of all the deer. A large elk bull usually has a harem of cows during the mating season, and it is often necessary for him to fight in order to uphold his position among them. These wilderness battles often end in tragedy, for it is not uncommon to find the skeletons of two great bulls that have died of starvation as a result of the antlers becoming locked during such a fight.

The calves are born in May and are spindle-legged little creatures for the first few days. They are spotted like the fawns of the deer and are cared for in much the same way by the mother. Usually one calf is born, two being much more unusual than it is with the Mule Deer.

As was the case in so many other localities, the native elk were practically exterminated in this region. About 1912, however, a small herd of 25 animals was imported from Yellowstone Park. The following year another herd was brought in. Some died, hut others drifted into the interior of the park and multiplied until in 1932 it is estimated that 446 elk range within the boundaries.

The 1932 Educational Program

This summer will see an enlarged educational program in Rocky Mountain National Park. With the addition to the staff of Mr. Dean Cornwall of the Geology Department of Oklahoma University, with two seasons of Yellowstone experience and Mr. Bert Frasier who will begin his fourth season in the park, our visitors are assured of a satisfactory and well rounded program.

At the present time 144 lectures, mostly illustrated are scheduled as well as 132 field trips. In addition to these, auto caravans, long field trips, museum and self-guiding nature trails will augment the program.

Of special interest is the initiation of all-day Saturday trips and the four day trip beginning on August 6th which will be conduct(ed) through some of the most spectacular country in the park.

A complete schedule of trips will be furnished on request, or the week's schedule can be procured at the Museum. We cordially invite not only our readers, but all of our visitors to hit the trails with us this summer.

Growth of Antlers

It occurs to us that the following information relative to the growth of deer antlers will be of interest to our readers. The quotation is taken from a recent statement by Dr. Joseph Dixon, Field Naturalist for the National Park Service.

"Exact age can not be told by antlers in mule deer. The popular notion that a buck adds one prong or point to his antlers each year has been shown not to be true. In the Modoc region of California yearling mule deer bucks often have their first set of antlers forked-horn while in central and southern California the first antlers are spikes.

"In Yosemite, the following is the normal antler production:

1st year—spike.
2nd year—forked-horn.
3rd year—3-point (eye guard or brow tine acquired.)
4th to 8th years—normal 4-point.
8th to 10th years—extra points may or may not be added."

<<< Previous
> Cover <
Next >>>