©Bert Gildart: The past few weeks in Jasper National Park have brought Janie and me into close contact with one of our most fascinating species of wildlife–the elk. The time there started me thinking about past experiences, and upon our return home several days ago, I began looking through some old black and white images I made while working for one of our local papers. As well, I renewed my acquaintance with terminology, and to do that all I had to do was go to some of my old columns.
Once, of course, elk occupied a huge range that included not only many of our forested states but our prairie states as well. They were wide spread, and the year before, Janie and I saw them in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountain National Park where they’ve been reintroduced. In these areas elk are exhibiting traits that are part of an age-old ritual, and they are now making headlines, at least here in Montana.
COWS ALSO FIGHT
Fall is certainly the most ritualistic time for elk, as it is mating season. What’s particularly interesting to recall is that the only time I have ever seen cow elk fight is in autumn. One October in Yellowstone, I caught these two cows fighting above Mammoth Terrace.
What prompted this conflict, I’m still not sure, but most physical encounters generally result from territorial disputes or fights over food. Perhaps that’s what precipitated this encounter.
With males it’s easy to figure out what’s going on. Bulls fight to protect their harems, as were those in my Jasper posting made about 10 days ago.
Fortunately, bulls don’t always settle their differences by fighting, else they’d have little energy left for anything else. Often they settle grudges by display, and most wonderfully, by giving voice to a mystical cry described as a bugle. That cry has often been called one of nature’s most dramatic and most urgent sounds.
Fights, of course, do occur and it may not be surprising that the bull with the most magnificent set of antlers wins. Because magnificence is often equated with the number of tines, a nomenclature has developed.
TINES DEFINE BULLS
A bull elk, then, is defined by the number of tines it produces. If a bull has six tines, it is called a Royal; seven, an Imperial; eight, a Monarch. The antler in the sketch represent those from a Monarch.
On some of the largest specimens, antlers may be up to six feet long, with a spread of 47 inches between terminal ends of the two main branches.
Other terminology used to describe elk antlers soon follows, but let’s make this a little more interesting and see if you can replace the numbers with the correct terminology.
Numbers in parenthesis match up with the correct answer, also numbered below. It’s the same quiz (part of the same much larger contest, that is) Janie and I prepared for our annual Northwest Outdoor Writer’s Association Convention, in this case for the one held this past year. Don’t worry, many of the contestants didn’t do well-and they’re professionals.
Here’s the quiz, followed by the answers:
Tines projecting out over the brow are called (1) tines. Logical enough. Going up the antler, the second set is referred to as the (2) tine. Together these first two tines are known as (3) tines. The somewhat shorter third tine is called the (4) tine. The fourth, largest, and deadliest tine is known as the (5) tine. And lastly, the two points forming the antler’s divided tip of the Royal bull elk are the (6).
Answers: 1. brow; 2, bay or bez ; 3, war lifters, or dog-killers; 4, tray or trez; 5, royal, or dagger-point; 6, sur-royals.
Of course, these definitions and attempts to categorize bulls is a yearly approach, for all members of the deer family shed their antlers, and so their ranking may change. Generally, they lose their antlers in late winter or early spring, and shortly thereafter the cycle starts all over. Right now, we’re at the top of that cycle, and if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area inhabited by elk, this is the time to get out and enjoy the season. It won’t last long, perhaps another week or so.