The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation constantly receives a wide variety of questions regarding elk and elk biology. Below is a question we received via the RMEF Facebook page accompanied by a photo. We reached out to Tom Toman, RMEF director of science and planning, for an answer.
The description sounds as if last year’s antlers have not yet shed. While most elk typically shed at nearly the same time every year, it is not unusual to see a bull or two that is a bit out of sync.
A lot of bull elk shed from about the first of March to mid-April but elk watchers have seen much earlier antler shedding dates and much later antler shedding dates. There is a lot of variation in individual elk as to when they shed. Some speculate that big bulls shed first and spikes shed later, but we have all seen exceptions to that!
In many cases it is just a matter of a week or so and that is not unusual. However, when I was working for Wyoming Game and Fish in Jackson a number of years ago, we observed several bulls that were out of sync with the “normal” dates by about six months!
One particular bull was on the Alkali Feedground in the Gros Ventre drainage. When he showed up on the feedground in December, his antlers were just starting to grow and were only velvet-covered nubs! About the time the other bulls were shedding, his antlers were fully developed and totally covered with velvet. He started rubbing the velvet off about the time the winter broke and he headed for the hills. The crew all laughed as we thought this bull was beating the odds. About the time hunting season came around he would be shedding his rack and would not be a legal bull during the antlered elk season! Quite a strategy if that were possible but more likely just one of the oddities of Mother Nature!
RMEF Director of Science and Planning