Winter Migration - how much snow is too much

coOverwatch

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
148
Location
Elizabeth, CO
hi all,

well it is down to this last week for me to bag an elk for 2013. i have a cow tag for 4th here in CO. the unit i am in had 6-8 inches above 9500 and a budy saw elk in the adjacent unit down around 8500. so i have two questions to ask as i never really have given it much thought.

1. how much is to much snow for elk. will they start moving down if there is 8- 12 inches on the ground for a few days?

2. is there a general time frame for when they start moving to their winter feeding grounds.

now i know these are subjective questions, and no one can say on a specific date that they will start to head to winter pasture.... just trying to figure out which end of the unit i should concentrate on. One is the winter pasture.. the other is higher and more timber..and more snow on the ground.
 

ScottR_EHJ

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Mar 8, 2012
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1,391
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Wyoming
Its more about figuring what part of the transition they are in. Cows with calves move towards winter feeding areas the quickest, if you have ever watched a calf navigate deep snow its pretty easy to see why. Big bodied mature bulls will hang out much longer in the high country, often times alone, or in small groups.

Once its tough for the elk to dig through the snow to food then you can expect them to start heading down. Once they bunch up into big groups they kind of have a trick, when they start walking all over the snow as a group of 10 or more they begin to break apart the snow and its easier for them to feed. Another advantage of their numbers, which allows them to stay up high a bit longer..

So the trick really is understanding, whether they have grouped up into big groups(often start to do this before they come down). Where animals from a certain area winter, and the most likely travel route based of accessible feed to get there. Truth be told, sometimes I think its harder to find them when they have bunched up into big groups, because it removes many of them from what would be considered elky areas other times of the year. They are still in a lot of those areas, but only in one or two of them rather than dispersed all over.

For instance, the area I hunt has feed grounds for the elk spread across several units. In 20 years of hunting this area I have a pretty good handle on where they summer, where they transition to, and at what point they get to the feed grounds. Most years it takes them almost all the way to January before they head there, and in years past I have hunted them at nearly 9k. They just hadn't run out of food in the area they were at, plain and simple.

So, concentrate on the transition routes, working your way from bottom to the higher end would be my advice. If all else fails, pull out the spotter, get on a good vantage point for as much territory as possible and get it done.
 
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coOverwatch

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
148
Location
Elizabeth, CO
the areas I have been in this year are all new to me.. so trying to find the best spots have been proving to be a bit difficult in the short amount of time i have. I have what i think is a spot picked out via Google earth to glass some north facing slopes from the bottom about 2 to 3 miles away (if the weather holds out). these are finger pockets of timber and sage in their "Transition and winter range". figure if i don't see anything there then head back up higher to the heavy timber and start over. Guess i have been to spoiled with hunting private land for the last few years.
 

dpetersen

Junior Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2012
Messages
25
Location
Wyoming
Ive seen bulls that didnt leave till there was 3 foot on the ground, This is the yellowatone migration to the feedlots. So much snow that we could not get off the trail on horseback or foot! They didnt seam to be worried at all about the snow at all.
But in other areas that have no feedlots, I have seen them leave at the first decent storm, I think it depends on the area, If they know they will have to cross a heavy pressure area they will stay much longer.
 

Swede

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 24, 2012
Messages
385
Location
Warren Oregon
I agree with dpeterson. I have been out where there is three feet of snow and found elk many times. Available forage is probably the key. If the snow gets deeper and the winter lasts long, they can become too weak and the many will die, or become vulnerable to predators. It starts to get hard for them to get around when the snow is deeper and packed. When I was working for the Forest Service I would see them or their tracks around logging sites, or while I was driving out to where there was logging. They love to forage on the moss from fresh felled trees in the logging area. They will hang around nearby, and come in to feed daily as soon as the loggers head for home.
 
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