New Study Details How Utah Elk Outsmart Hunters

(Photo: Jace Bauserman/HUNT365)

By Roxroy Ballers

I live in Utah and do most of my hunting in the Mountain West. I recently found out that elk, particularly elk in Utah, are just as smart as you think they are. 

In a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management from Brigham Young University in Utah, researchers found that Elk will indeed move off of public land to safer, private lands during the elk hunt, only to return after the hunt is finished. 

“It’s crazy; on the opening day of the hunt, they move, and on the closing day they move back,” BYU professor Brock McMillan, the senior author of the study, told “It’s almost like they’re thinking, ‘Oh, all these trucks are coming, it’s opening day, better move.'”

Elk’s presence on public land diminishes by over 30 percent by the middle of rifle season, per the study.  

For those that primarily hunt public lands, like myself, it’s a bummer as the herds head on over to safer pastures.  While some may argue this is a boon for private landowners the reality is more complicated, as BYU professor Randy Larsen observed.  

SEE ALSO: Elk Hunting: Don’t Make It Miserable!

“The state had been getting complaints on both sides of the issue with elk migrating to private lands,” Larsen explained. “One side says there are not enough elk to hunt—”Why are you issuing permits?”—while private owners are saying “The elk are eating us out of house and home!'”

See, not every landowner is a hunter.  This means those that don’t hunt should be encouraged to invite hunters onto their land during the season to help keep elk populations in check, as co-author of the study Maksim Sergeyev noted.

“Allowing private-land elk hunting in collaboration with private landowners has helped Utah keep these elk populations in balance with their habitat,” said Sergeyev. “Now there are more elk on public lands when the hunt starts and less elk on private lands negatively impacting industries and habitats.”

Continued cooperation and coordination between private landowners and hunters are really the keys to pleasing all involved. On this front, my one hope is that private landowners do not begin to price out the average Joe when it comes time to hunt their lands. After all, public tax dollars fund the management of the elk populations in Utah, seems only fair that public hunters should have affordable access to their game.

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