January 27, 2023

Montana Elk Getting Older

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The elk population in the Northern Yellowstone herd is getting older. Ten years ago, the average age of the elk in that herd was about 6 years. Today that average has climbed to just under nine years (average ages vary by animal sex).

This data is collected by examining the teeth of deer harvested during the annual elk hunt. They look at the teeth in a similar way that one would examine a tree. Each ring on a tree represents a year of growth. The same holds true with an elk’s tooth.

What concerns scientists with this trend is the older the herd becomes the more difficult it is to reproduce and sustain a healthy population. The numbers that have been collected do not reflect the same trends in other elk herds. For example, other herds have an average age of 4-5 years and more calves are born each year than with the Northern Yellowstone herd.

Adjustments have been made to the number of antlerless hunting permits issued in this region. In 2000, 2,880 permits were issued. For the late season hunt scheduled for this January 6-30, 2006, 100 permits were issued. This is an attempt by officials to increase the number of calves to be born next spring which in turn should increase the population and with more young elk born, the average age should begin to decrease back toward more normal ranges.

You can go to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks web site and read the entire report.

Tom Remington