Slopes and Drainages
Coniferous Forest; Thermal and Security Cover, Bedding Sites
When security cover is used for hiding, the forest overstory is usually of moderate height with downed woody material and abundant browse on the ground, with approximately 200 trees per acre; preferred security cover is 600 feet wide. This same type of cover is used by elk in cold weather to reduce heat loss. Elk use of security cover declines between 450 and 600 feet into the cover; and elk rarely go deeper into heavy cover than 600 feet. When the avoid danger elk move an average of 375 feet into cover before feeling secure.
Preferred bedding cover for elk is often 75 to 100 percent closed, and 30 to 60 acres in size. During warm periods elk day beds are often found on north facing slopes; night beds are often found on south facing slopes, often in open areas. During cold periods day beds can be found on south facing slopes; night beds are usually on the downwind side of slopes. Most bedding sites are found near timber clumps, with the exception of warm weather night beds, that are often in open areas.
Preferred forbes of Rocky Mountain elk during the fall include Common commandra, slimpod shootingstar, American licorice, dotted grayfeather, alfalfa, yellow sweetclover, mountain bluebells, cord-leaved montia, Siberian montia, alpine forget-me-not, Wilcox pentsemon, Columbian goundsel, Sitka valerian, wyethia and Common beargrass. Preferred fall grasses and grass like plants include bluestem wheatgrass, bearded bluebunch wheatgrass, blue wildrye, Idaho fescue, sheep fescue, Pary rush, millet woodrush, Timothy, bluegrass, and needle-and-thread. Preferred fall trees and shrubs include curlleaf mountain mahogany, quaking aspen, bitter cherry, Antelope bitterbrush, prickly rose, willow, blueberry elder, blackbead elder and American mountain ash. Elk are opportunistic feeders and relish the upper boughs and needles of freshly fallen spruce and pine, the bark of freshly fallen aspen, and acorns where available. They eat between 1.7 and 2.9 pounds of dry meadow grass per hundred pounds of body weight; large bulls may eat from 12 to 18 pounds a day.
Bull elk and cow elk often use differing amounts of the same food sources. In one study bulls used 10 percent more grass and cows used 10 percent more Salmonberry in September than they did in August. During one study there was a marked difference in the amount of food intake between the bulls and cows in mid-November, after the rut. Overall cow intake declined from September to October, while bull intake was highest after the rut (late October through November). This was probably due to the fact that bulls need to put on fat after the rut to get them through the winter, and the cows eat less during the fall because the calves have begun to forage more and drink less milk.
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