What are moose in WY doing right now?

moose in wy

Starting in January, mature bull moose undergo a hormonal change which tells their bodies to shed the previous year’s antler growth. Once this process begins, it will only be a few weeks before the bulls begin to grow new antlers. In a bull’s situation, the older (larger racks) fall 1st, then the younger/smaller ones.

In January, something drops!

Speciflcally, bulls drop their antlers from their foreheads. This area is  on the bull’s upper skull. It’s called the “pedicle”, an area above and behind the eye. Once the antlers have shed, the pedicle will cover with fur and soon begin to bulge with new antler growth. This growth process will continue until September, when the antler is fully grown. Antler size depends upon a bull’s age, genetics and food quality. Cow moose do not grow antlers.

As a member of the deer family, bull moose antlers are covered during growth by a layer of “velvet” which wraps the growing antlers in a protective “fuzzy” covering which allows blood and nutrients to promote antler development.

Now, check out this guy in August. moose in wy

This, and similar bull moose will lose the velvet, formerly covering their antlers, and will soon be ready to go head-to-head with other males for mating privileges in September.

Generally speaking, moose are solitary animals that do not travel in herds. In warm months, moose will feed on aquatic vegetation and can dive 20 ft below a water surface to reach that food. Year-round, moose are also twig eaters. Interestingly, moose have no upper molars. They are able to crush woody twigs with their lower teeth and upper palate. A moose ruminates food for a few hours, usually when laying down, and then fully digests the food intake and soon passes food.

In winter, bulls tend to congregate together. Not in herd formation, only a few may be seen close to one another. Moose cows do not socialize much, and will most often be seen only with their own calf/calves. A mature bull may weigh 1,200 lbs and can jump a 4’ fence on the run…..in 4 feet of snow. I’ve witnessed it !!!
A cow may have 2 calves each year…..same birthday. Each calf will weigh 35 lbs when they hit the ground!

Come and see the new generation of moose !!
Mark Bolen
Teton Wild. www.tetonwild.com

Wolves! Voracious Predator or Vital Partner?

Are wolves voracious, evil predators, or are they a vital part of our ecosystem? The answer depends on who you ask.

Ranchers and farmers detest wolves. They see them as responsible for the destruction of livestock. There is no doubt there is wolf predation. A Montana study showed a loss of 500 sheep to wolves in 2003, while coyotes killed over 11,000. When disease, weather, eagles, bears, and foxes are added to the mix, documented livestock losses to wolves account for less than 1%. Yet wolves arouse almost violent feelings of anger in some.

Why? One reason is we are socialized from an early age to believe wolves are evil. Think about Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, the “wolves at the door”.

Ask wildlife scientists and conservationists, and you will get an entirely different answer. They see wolves as a vital part of a balanced ecosystem. One the best examples of this is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

An Ecosystem in Decline

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is a huge swath of land covering more than 20 million acres. It includes Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, plus adjacent parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. 

Wolves were eliminated from this area in the mid 1920’s. Their disappearance removed the major factor controlling the elk population. As a result, the elk population exploded. By the mid 1960’s, oversized elk herds were hanging out in the river and stream beds. They were grazing the young willow, cottonwood, and aspen trees down to the ground. Without young trees to replenish them, the forests began to decline. Beaver disappeared from the valley.

The coyote population also boomed. While coyotes will feed on dead elk, they don’t hunt them. Their natural diet is small ground mammals such as ground squirrels, moles, chipmunks, etc. As the ground mammals disappeared, other predators such as foxes, hawks, and eagles declined sharply.

A Solution for Re-balance 

Conservationists saw the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf as the solution to rebalance the ecosystem. Farmers and ranchers were vehemently opposed.

Finally, the Federal Government forged a compromise. In January of 1995 and January of 1996 a total of 66 Canadian Grey Wolves were released in Yellowstone National Park and adjacent Idaho.

These are truly gorgeous animals. Gray wolves are large. Males are 5 to 6.5 feet long, 26 to 32 inches at the shoulder and weigh 70 to 115 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. Wolves reach adult size in about a year from birth.

They can live up to 13 yrs. in the wild. Right now, wolves are fighting for pack hierarchy and territorial boundaries. Come mid-February, the alphas will mate and assure their legacy.

Their coats range in color from stark white to pitch black. Most wolves are a golden or tawny brown color with streaks of white or black. The interesting thing about the black wolves is they possess a gene called the K- locus that causes the solid black color. DNA studies have shown this gene came from cross-breeding with domestic dogs thousands of years ago.

They have intelligent-looking faces. Their eyes are blue when born. At about 8 weeks of age, the color changes to yellow, amber, orange, or even brown.

Wolves have a tight social structure. They run in packs that average from 4 to 8, but can number as high as 30. They are run by an Alpha male. His mate is the Beta female. There is a strict hierarchy to the pack with each member filling an important function. Once pups grow into adults, they are dispersed from their parents’ packs. They then pair off with other dispersed wolves and form their own packs.

In the GYE, wolves feed on Elk, Moose, Bison and Deer. They may also eat nuts, berries, and small mammals. An individual wolf needs to eat an average of 3.7 pounds of meat per day for minimum survival. Wolves may not eat for week, and then gorge themselves on 20 pounds of meat from a kill. Two Yellowstone studies estimated their diet consisted of around 80% elk. 

Was Re-balance Achieved?

As one of the top predators in the GYE, the Gray Wolves made their presence known very quickly. A little more than two years later, half the coyotes were either killed or driven out. With the coyotes gone, small mammal populations began to rise. This allowed the return of other predators such as foxes and hawks.

The greatest effect was on the elk herds. Now hunted by the wolves, the elk were forced to keep moving. They were no longer able to linger long enough to completely destroy the young cottonwood and aspen trees. By 2006 the elk population was cut in half. This sounds harsh, but the reduced population is in balance with what the land can sustain.

In addition, when wolves kill elk, other predators such as coyotes, foxes, eagles, and ravens feed on the carcasses as well. This helps sustain their populations and smooth out the boom and bust population shifts.

As the forests began to regenerate, the beaver returned.

Today, some 20-odd years after the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf the populations have indeed grown. As of December 31, 2015, there were at least 1,704 wolves in 282 packs (including 95 breeding pairs) in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Ongoing studies show the positive effects wolves are having on Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, and the GYE.

Come and witness these magnificent mammals. Click below to make your reservation.

Mark Bolen


Do bears actually hibernate?

Yes and no.

Bears here in WY (black and grizzly) do take a nap, which is generally termed hibernation.  However, they actually go into a much more lethargic physical state of “hyperphagia”, during which time their heart and breathing rates decrease, while their blood-nitrogen level increases.

Over the previous summer, bears have been told by Mother Nature to eat everything they can to build up fat reserves to live on during the winter.  While in their den, they sleep but do not eat, drink, defecate or urinate.  Their bodies simply slow down.  Yet, sows still nurse their young cubs through this time.

Depending on their physical health, sow bears will have 1-3 cubs in winter, months after mating the previous spring.  Unbelievably, their bodies tell them well before giving birth how many cubs they are fit to support !!

This is a  biological happening  known as “delayed implantation”. The sow’s body lets her know how many “fertilized eggs” to implant, based upon her physical fitness.  Sows mate in spring, thus the term delayed implantation.  Once her body and mind agree, the sow will give birth from January to February.

Each year sows with no cubs emerge from the den in March, then those with one-year olds, then those with recently-born cubs.  All are out of the den by late April.

Beware sows!!  Boars will make your cubs disappear  to drive you back into estrus!!

At the time of their emergence from the den, bears are very hungry. They feed on pretty much anything….grass, carcasses, winter-kill fish, rodents and newly birthed ungulates (deer, elk, moose). Later in the year, their diet will change to live fish, cutworm moths, berries.

Bears are not herd/pack animals, but individuals will take over a wolf kill and bison/elk carcasses left behind by hunters.

Mark  Bolen
Teton Wild

More pronghorns than people in Wyoming

While pronghorn are the fastest running mammals in the Lower 48 States at 60 mph, they just can’t jump a fence!  Their forelegs are configured such that they will not  even consider such a jump.   Born to run, they are often referred to as “speed goats”.

Since they cannot jump, pronghorn choose to crawl under fences.  Thus, their 150 mile migration from Grand Teton National Park to the southerly Green River Range in WY used to be quite risky.  Along this route, pronghorns used to suffer many fatal collisions with vehicles.  Pronghorns cross roads at the easies place for them to get under a fence, which has led them to peril.

Nowadays, there are man-made 3-rail wooden fences that funnel pronghorn to overpasses. This allows them to safely cross above a road.  These overpasses span 4-lane highways and are over 100 yds long and 50 yds wide.  Studies show they work well to reduce vehicle accidents with both deer and pronghorn.

Today, the pronghorn population exceeds that of humans (580k) in WY.

Where can I see 7,500 elk? The National Elk Refuge!!


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.

ram on the National Elk RefugeNow 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.