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Hunting the Majestic Canadian Elk

The North American Elk belongs to the red deer family. In fact, it is the largest species of red deer found in the world and is second only to the moose in size. The North American elk is also known as Wapiti, a Shawnee Indian name for “white rump”. Scientists prefer to call this majestic deer by that name to differentiate it from the European elk, an altogether different species of animal that is related to the North American moose.

These prodigiously-sized cousins of the white-tailed deer are as tall at the shoulder as 59 inches (150 cm) and can weigh as much as 660 lbs. (300 kg). When summer enters its last phase, just before breeding season comes to a head, some of the larger bulls tip the scales at 1100 lbs. (500 kg). While females are considerably smaller in size, they still weigh at an average of 550 lbs. (250 kg) and are around 53 inches (135 cm) tall at the shoulder.

In the summer the Canadian Elk takes on a coat of reddish tan or reddish brown. In the winter, its color darkens considerably. The color of its rump runs from ivory all the way to orange, although it may appear white from a distance. With a massive dark head and neck, the Elk have a shaggy growth of hair from its neck to its chest, giving it a dark brown or blackish mane. Bulls also sport a spreading rack of antlers which they shed each year by rubbing them against the trunks of year.

Elk can be found in and on the edges of forests. They subsist on plants, grasses, leaves, and bark, and are known for their high level of adaptability. They are very sociable animals and usually gather in groups of six or seven. Where one elk is, more are not far away. During their breeding season, or rut, bulls have their own mating rituals. Some of these rituals include taking on threatening postures meant to intimidate other bulls, antler wrestling, and bugling – a distinctively loud succession of screams to confirm their dominance over the other bulls and to attract the opposite sex.

Based on fossil records, elk roamed North America as early as 120,000 years ago. When Europeans first set foot on Canada in the 17th century, the plentiful elk were hunted for both food and game. Soon, hunting elk in Canada became a very popular sport. Wanton killing was rife to the point that it led to the extinction of the Eastern elk and Merriam’s elk. The Rocky Mountain elk nearly had the same fate until the early 1900’s when concern about the loss of these big game animals brought about the implementation of hunting seasons and harvesting limits.

The Canadian elk currently number about 72,000 with over 40,000 found in British Columbia, 20,000 in Alberta, and around 10,000 in the areas of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The establishment of the Elk National Park has also contributed to the continued survival of the magnificent Canadian Wapiti.

The Canadian elk are considered by hunters as prized big game trophies. Elk hunting in Canada opens in late August and may last until November. About 4,000 elk are harvested by licensed hunters every year. Apart from this, the elk population is also hunted by aboriginal hunters in the area. Elk hunting in Canada has contributed greatly to the local economies, generating an average of $14 million annually.

Hunting elk in Canada provides a considerable boost to both tourism and the economy of the state. Canada has good conservation policies in place to ensure that elk numbers remain plentiful, and herds continue to thrive for outdoor enthusiasts and hunters to bag the oft dreamed of prized trophy animal.

The finest Canadian Wapiti hunting can be had in the foothills east and southwest of the Canadian Rockies, as well as on the slopes of Calgary in Alberta. Local outfitters usually offer hunting tours with both the bow and rifle, particularly when bulls are found in great numbers during their rut from September through October.

Hunting Canadian elk has brought about world-class records, such as the trophy taken in 1977 at Panther River by Clarence Brown with a score of 419 6/8. In 2005, bow hunter Brent Kuntz brought down a 422 4/8 eastern Alberta bull. And in 2007, Tommy Waldrop took home a 485 Canadian Rocky Mountain elk in Saskatchewan.

Because the chase is exceedingly slow, it takes great patience to hunt the Canadian elk. They are usually pursued from horseback in secluded alpine basins, parklands, and avalanche slides. While most hunters prefer using rifles, others carry muzzleloaders, and a select few skilled marksmen opt for the challenge of bow hunting. Each hunting method has its own season according to the local laws, limits, and restrictions of the area.

Though the hunt is slow, elk are very easy to track because of their immense weight. Their tracks show on nearly everything they step on. Canadian elk have distinct cloven hooves that look like the shape of a heart divided in two. Some of their tracks are usually spotted in great numbers, which point to evidence of a herd, and are very easy to stalk.
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