Private Elk Tour

Over the past couple years our team, friends and family have enjoyed the privilege of getting to know the Simpson family who share a passion for conserving elk. After talking with the Simpsons about elk behavior, biology and language while conducting research for our Public Lands Elk seminars we discovered lots of similar behaviors relating to the public land herds. Steve and Kathy invited us out to observe their herd for a better understand of how elk behave throughout the different seasons. “I” of course… wanted to know more about their language as I love the vocalizations and enjoy the pursuit during the “rut” or mating season.  One afternoon a group of us packed our cameras, calls and questions to visit the ranch. We went with an open mind to learn more about private elk ranching. Our goal was to discover their knowledge about elk and compare it with public lands elk behavior.  When we arrived we saw cow elk feeding in the open pasture producing soft “mews” communicating with each other just like elk in the wild. The fences that contained the animals were at least twenty feet high and very well maintained.

As we drove through the large gates, I remember some of the bulls not allowing us to pass in the truck as they were excited thinking we had fresh alfalfa for dinner!
One bull in particular seemed very friendly wanting to take a closer look. Steve warned us that elk are very curious and love to chew on things… even vehicle paint if we let them.
The animals were relaxed and seemed to be comfortable with our approach. The owner explained that in the early season bulls are quite tame as the testosterone in their blood is almost absent which causes the animal to be very “non-aggressive”. The velvet was in full growth developing the antler while cooling the bull’s blood supply much like a “radiator”. Steve had us touch the velvet to feel the heat coming off the soft antler. We learned that their antlers grow up to three inches a day in the peak of development. Once testosterone releases the velvet starts to dry and the antler is complete while the bull’s temperature begins to increase causing the bull’s to become very “aggressive”. This is usually when they become vocal and start to challenge each other for territorial rights before the breeding season.
Rubbing off Velvet

Rubbing Velvet

Once the bulls become much more aggressive and their velvet starts to dry, the Simpsons provide trees for the bulls to rub their velvet off accomplishing two things… leaving scent and polishing their antlers.

As we watched bulls “rub” we noticed a few extremely large genetic bulls off in the distance. Steve explained they have some very large blood line bulls that produce incredible offspring. Older mature bulls seem to breed earlier with mature cows to produce higher calf birth weights and improved calf survival. Younger bulls tend to breed later with younger cows and have poor birth weights at times causing less chance of calf survival.

I remember asking Steve if I could try a few calls to see how the elk respond. Steve said “go ahead and give it a try”. I used a mouth diaphram call to produce a very quiet “mew” right in front of a huge bull. The bull responded right in my face with the exact same call. Later I walked off in the distance and tried some different bugles to see if the bulls would respond. They did and the older mature bulls started to really become vocal creating a frenzy of activity right near dusk. Since then we have visited the ranch on many occasions to continue to learn more about private elk. One day Steve walked us to one of his bulls and asked if we could take a picture with my son on the bull??? He assured me the bull would be fine and that the bulls were “non-aggressive”. So… Eli got the pleasure of sitting on a beautiful 350 class bull.

Eli getting to know "KONG"

Eli & "KONG"

Just after Eli got to sit on one of the bulls, we had friends with us that decided they wanted to get close and personal as you can see…

Nice Mr. Elk!

How about a Kiss?

How about a Kiss?

Through observation we realized these elk are very well cared for and eat a very well balanced diet. The Simpsons herd has been a real joy to watch and learn from as these elk are all tested and very healthy proving the potential of what elk can become. I kept thinking how incredible it would be to have robust genetics like these in our public lands. The rest are pictures to enjoy as elk are such incredible animals to pursue!

Monster 500 class Bull

500 class Bull

Thank you Simpson’s for your friendship, hospitality and education about your private elk herd. These animals are beautiful and remind me of how majestical they are to hunt while climbing thousands of feet in elevation and weathering all climates just to fill the freezer with the best tasting meat on earth!

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About the Author

Troy Neimann

Troy Neimann

Troy Neimann lives in Central Oregon with his wife of 19 years and their three children. You can find Troy with his family, friends and partners out most weekends enjoying the Lord's creation "Pursuing The Outdoors".