Are elk smarter than hunters? A recently published study says yes. Do you disagree? Let’s dive into it and find out.

The Background

According to the Utah DWR’s Annual Big Game Report, the year 2020 saw a lot of hunters in search of elk. How many exactly? A whopping 62,368 hunters. A total of 6,882 bull elk and 6,718 antlerless elk were harvested. (If I’m reading the data correctly.)

In other words, elk hunting is extremely popular in the state of Utah. And why wouldn’t it be? It is one of a few states that offers over-the-counter options and if you are lucky to draw a limited-entry tag, the trophy elk are plentiful.

So with all of the elk harvested and that many hunters afield, how are elk outsmarting us?

The Elk Strategy

Simply put, they move. Elk move from the wide tracks of public land and onto private lands. However, they aren’t just moving. It is also when they are moving.

Researchers noticed that elk reduce their public land usage by at least 30% during the rifle season.

“It’s crazy; on the opening day of the hunt, they move, and on the closing day they move back. It’s almost like they’re thinking, ‘Oh, all these trucks are coming, it’s opening day, better move,'” BYU professor Brock McMillan

With less hunting pressure on private lands and prior to 2016, it was virtually non-existent. Researchers also noted that with Utah being a “no-wolf” state, hunters are vital to assist in controlling the elk population.

But both private and public lands are used by the elk and both need population management. Meanwhile, the UDWR is trying to also manage the herd for both public and private land users.

“One side says there are not enough elk to hunt — ‘Why are you issuing permits?’ while private owners are saying, ‘The elk are eating us out of house and home,'” BYU professor Randy Larsen

Consequently, it can be tricky for managers to make all involved happy. It is an ever-evolving process and sometimes things don’t always work. However, researchers do credit two DWR biologists on the team for helping create the private land hunting plan. You can read more about the elk study here. The data certainly leads you to believe that these elk are smarter than hunters. At least in the sense that they know when public land pressure is coming.

You can also read more Utah hunting-related news by clicking here.

Do you believe big game animals are smarter than hunters? Do you prefer hunting private or public lands? Let us know in the comments!

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