Soon, a herd of around 7,500 elk will navigate in smaller groups from their northern summer range. They are headed to the Jackson Valley and the National Elk Refuge, just outside the town of Jackson, WY.
But why do they come here?
The elk migration once passed through Jackson from north to south. As the town of Jackson developed in the early 1900’s, the migration route was cut off. As a result, locals began feeding the elk bales of hay (2-4% protein) to avoid mass starvation and resulting public outcry
The Refuge was established under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1912. It currently encompasses 25,000 acres, bordering the town.
Now elk wintering here will be supplementally fed with condensed alfalfa pellets (30% protein). This occurs when elk are unable to access the snow-covered forage below. Alfalfa feeding began in 1975. Contrary to their normal fear of humans, elk show no hesitance to “run” toward that alfalfa tractor, as if they hear the “dinner bell“ ringing.
The National Elk Refuge is also the winter home of a large Bighorn Sheep herd. There are also wolves, bison, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, foxes, mule deer, bald eagles, hawks, ravens, magpies and multiple species of waterfowl.
The Jackson Boy Scout Troup has ONE DAY on the Refuge in the spring to gather elk antlers. They later sell them on the town square for their largest fundraising event of the year. The Troop gets 75% of auction proceeds. Last year, the average price for antlers was around $16.00/lb. One side of an elk’s antlers can weigh 20 lbs.
To witness this magnificent place, reserve your wildlife tour.