Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Biggest Bulls You'll Probably Never See in Person

Not too long ago, I stumbled across a photo (seen on the left) of a pond jammed full of elk, mostly BIG bull elk. I posted it on the RMEF Facebook page with the only caption that came to my mind: “Yowza!” The “likes” and comments immediately poured in by the dozens and dozens, but I wanted to know more. A little research, a Facebook message and subsequent emails from an RMEF follower, and a phone call to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist revealed some enlightening information.
Hanford Reach National Monument

The elk are located on a 194,000 acre chunk of land north of Richland in south-central Washington called the Hanford Reach National Monument. Created by presidential decree in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, it came mostly from the former security buffer surrounding the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home to a decommissioned nuclear power plant that supplied plutonium for the World War II atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. 

Hanford Nuclear
Reservation 
Today, the former nuclear site is nothing more than a superfund clean-up site, but its surroundings are much more than that. An area untouched by development or agriculture since 1943, the monument is bordered by the Columbia River to the north and east and the Yakima River and Highway 240 to the south. It’s home to sweeping vistas, towering bluffs, wildflowers, mule deer, coyotes, bald eagles, blue herons, pelicans and, of course, elk.

The elk arrived in the 1970s from the Cascade Mountains during an especially severe winter, and remained there since. The population hit a peak of 800 in 1999. WDFW surveys in January 2012 indicated a herd estimate of 719 elk with 46 bulls and 41 calves per 100 cows.

Courtesy Samantha Davey

Courtesy Brad Collins
The downside is most of us will never see the elk in person because the clean-up site, under the direction of the Department of Energy, is off-limits. Access to the monument is also restricted for research and ecology purposes. Even though WDFW pushed for more hunting opportunities, most available hunts are designed to address crop damage on surrounding wheat farms, vineyards and orchards. The best way to get hunter access is to apply for a special landowner permit. If selected, a one day guided hunt is guaranteed, however most permits are limited to antlerless opportunity for youth. The elk do sometimes leave the monument and clean-up area to swim across the river to what’s known as White Bluffs to breed, but they mostly remain on central Hanford.
Courtesy Samantha Davey
If you’re curious, past toxicology testing on meat taken from elk on the former nuclear site found nothing unsafe or out of the ordinary.

Courtesy Brian K. Moore



12 comments:

  1. I am not questioning the validity of your story, but I believe from first hand experience that first image of the elk in the pond was taken in the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari in NE. I have been to that pond several times. Google for images using the search words "Henry Doorly zoo safari elk photos" and you will see several very similar images. If you want to see a bunch of big bulls bugling right out your car window drive through the park in late August or September. It is off of I-80 between Lincoln and Omaha. They have 40 or 50 huge bulls there in open range drive through safari type setting.

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  2. Phil,

    I did see one such photo. There are definitely some similarities. What's so rare about the above photos is they are only taken by people who work there because there is no public access.

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  3. My families farm is right across the river from the Hanford reach in the Basin City area. Every once in a while you see an elk roaming our farm-lost.

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  4. There are also enormous elk located in northwest Minnesota. Though the numbers a re small there is actually a season for them only for residents through a lottery. If you google "Minnesota Elk" you will find many pages about Minnesota elk hunting and the elk themselves. I was actually apart of the hunt of the minneaota record elk taken by a hunter last fall. You can also find more information on the MN DNR website.

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  5. I live near the Hanford reach but we call it the reach these elk are the biggest I have ever seen and I have seen the biggest elk ever shoot by my uncle in Montana I love knowing these elk have been thriving in a area not touched by man in 70 years

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  6. I'm with Phil on this one. If they were from the Cascade region of Washington they would most likely have to be Roosevelt Elk. These in this picture don't have dark enough or long enough necks, and I don't see a three point crown in the bunch. I don;t think they are Roosevelts.

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  7. Unsure about first picture if from location, but its true it has one of the largest populations because nobody can hunt out there.

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  8. http://www.outdoorlife.com/photos/gallery/hunting/big-game/elk/2010/08/trophies-youll-never-kill/?image=1

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  9. Roosevelt elk are from the Cascade west, Rockies are from the Cascades east. This is east, so they are Rockies

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  10. Wonderful story and post! My friend Brad who took the moon shot above sent me the link... I am so impressed and delighted, and the information shared even in comments is great.

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  11. Wont let me post what I want to post. Please protect these animals for the wolves and Mt lions they are killing our herds.

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  12. I've seen and hunted bulls all over , I saw some of these bulls today as I was driving by and they are the biggest I've ever seen in real life, looked like circus freaks!

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