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

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Hunter's Dilemma: A Bull Elk or a Cow?

David Allen
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen has an elk down. No need to get out the tape measure to score it. It does not have a monster rack. It’s not a typical 6x6. It’s not even a rag horn. It’s a cow and David is thrilled with it.

“I am encouraging all elk hunters to consider shooting cows,” David emailed. “It is great elk meat and it is great game management for the health of our elk herds.”

No argument here. I was fortunate to harvest my first elk, a cow, last season. That took place just a few years after my son harvested the first elk in at least three generations of my family, if not the first ever, during an antlerless youth hunt. (My ancestors were deer hunters in a state, at that time, void of elk.) In both cases, having elk in the freezer is a tremendous blessing. We had plenty of meat for ourselves but we also gave some away to family members and friends. And the best part, in my wife’s words, “This is delicious!” Steaks, roasts, stew meat, ground, jerky—you name it, we love it.

Mark & Jace Holyoak
But as David mentioned, it’s not just about the taste. Here are some reasons why the RMEF wants you to consider taking a cow:

*Reducing a herd to fit the carrying capacity of its winter range is a form of habitat conservation. Removing a calf-producer is more effective population control. Wildlife agencies issue either-sex tags specifically to encourage hunter harvest of cows.

*Letting young bulls walk improves your odds for a big, mature bull next year.

*A more abundant bull population tends to be older which can improve efficiency of the rut. The result is more bulls surviving winter, higher pregnancy rates in cows, fewer late calves and better overall herd health.

*A less abundant cow population tends to be younger, more vigorous and resistant to diseases.

*At the dinner table, cows and calves generally taste better.

Hunting remains the primary wildlife management tool for state agencies. It is vital for balancing elk populations within biological and cultural tolerances. 

David Allen & MidwayUSA CEO Larry Potterfield
“Habitat conservation, sound management, good hunting, healthy wildlife—they’re all tied together. And, more and more, adequate harvest of cow elk is becoming a factor,” David said. “If you have an either-sex elk tag this fall, consider letting young bulls go and filling your freezer with a fat cow. Remember, hunting is conservation.”

(Mark Holyoak is the public relations director at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.)


  1. I agree! I have been hunting cow elk for the last 10 years or so. It IS good herd management and the meat is better than bull elk. Great article.

  2. Last year I had one of my most exciting moments as a hunter. Third season in Colorado, and I had a Bull and a Cow tag, one of each. I picked a ridge from below and made a guess that there would be hoof traffic at the top a day after a major storm.
    Sure enough, I cut fresh track and stalked the ridge for a mile or two until I came upon a big, orange or gold-looking boulder in a clearing. That seemed an odd color. I dropped behind a log and glassed. It was a bull!

    Never seen a color like that! I looked in and saw the bull laying down, turned away from me. His backbone was in a line away from me. He lay between two aspens and it was hard to see his antlers to get a count, but I did have a clean shot at 150 feet at his head. Then I saw his cow standing behind a tree just uphill. She stood silently watching, giving me a perfect shot at her vitals.

    My buddy was with me and had driven 1000 miles and paid for an out of state bull tag. He was far below me in the valley. I dared not turn on my radio and blow my shot at either elk (I honestly never considered shooting each, even with two tags.)

    After checking my shot on each, I wavered for a minute, leaning towards taking the bull, but the cow gave me such a better angle, AND my partner below had a bull tag only. I guessed that the bull would run in his direction when I took my shot at the cow, which is exactly what happened.

    My friend missed his show, unfortunately. The bull and his friends came crashing through the bush from above in a herd and he never had a clear shot at the bull due to cow intererence.

    My shot counted, and a beautiful, youngish cow lay 10 yards from where I shot her through the heart.
    I think about that choice often. I am most proud of that decision, and hoping that the bull I left for someone else is still with us on that Colorado mountain in a few weeks...

    Corby Anderson
    Basalt, CO