Factors Affecting the Distribution and Behavior of Elk in Montana

MS Thesis, Peter Mumford

Throughout western Montana elk (Cervus canadensis) have increasingly used private lands that are generally inaccessible to hunters. The trend creates problems for landowners, who experience issues of depredation from elk, and for wildlife managers, who rely on hunters to help control numbers of elk. The North Sapphire Elk Research Project (NSERP) was executed from 2014-2016 in the Bitterroot valley, Montana, to study patterns of space use and migratory behaviors of elk. After the study concluded, the Bitterroot National Forest Travel Management Plan was modified. Additionally, ownership of large parcels of land in the valley changed, resulting in more limited hunter access. 

This research builds on NSERP and focuses on understanding factors that influence the distribution of elk during summer and fall hunting seasons in the North Sapphire Range. Emphasis will be placed on changes that occurred after the conclusion of NSERP. Findings will give wildlife managers insight into how to influence the distribution of elk. This research also focuses on how risk influences patterns of space use of male elk during hunting seasons in the Elkhorn and North Sapphire Mountains. Conclusions from the study will elucidate fundamental aspects of the behavior of male elk.