Monday, February 8, 2016

Elk at Hardware Ranch

Our Sharp Shooters Camera Club went on a field trip to Hardware Ranch in Utah last Saturday to photograph a big herd of elk up close and personal.

This has got be one of the best deals anywhere for family entertainment.  This year there are about 400 elk at the ranch, and we rode a horse-drawn sleigh to see them, for just $5.00 each.

There are many more cows than bulls on the ranch, and the ladies seem to be good at ignoring this bull.  We were told that about 80% of the cows are pregnant, and they need to eat more than the bulls, so they are more likely to come down to the feeding grounds.  All the elk will leave when the snow melts and food becomes available in the mountains again.

Elk need to leave the mountains to find food in the winter, and most of their historic feeding areas no longer exist because of development.  Hardware Ranch, and many other locations in the Rocky Mountains, has been established to grow hay during the summer and provide food for the elk in winter.

This little guy is an elk calf.  It may look small, but an adult bull Rocky Mountain elk (wapiti) can weigh 700 pounds.  The elk here are completely wild and unfenced, so getting this close is a great opportunity.

This is the largest bull elk on the ranch at the moment.  His massive antlers are really impressive, but will shed by the end of winter.  Antler size is determined by age, nutrition, and genetics.

Why do the elk tolerate sleighs full of people?  Our guide said she thinks they are used to being fed from a sleigh so they don’t associate them with danger.  But, if someone gets off the sleigh so the elk see a human shape, they run off in a hurry.  In fact, our sleigh lost a “tug” which had to be reattached.  A second sleigh was placed alongside so the repair could be done while hidden from the elk.  None of this could be done without the beautiful, patient draft horses, and they seem to like attention after each ride.

I recommend Hardware Ranch as a great family destination in the winter.  The kids will love it.

Please note that these photos are all copyrighted and should not be used without my permission.