Quirks & Quarks

Brainy elk become bulletproof by outsmarting hunters

By the time an elk reaches the age of 9 or 10, it has learned where to go and how to hide to evade human hunters.

Wise old elk outsmart Alberta hunters

By the time a female elk reaches the age of around 10, it is practically "bulletproof," says Mark Boyce. (Mark Boyce )

By the time a female elk reaches the age of nine or ten, it is practically invulnerable to human hunters.  

A new study by Dr. Mark Boyce, a Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, has found that elk learn how to avoid hunters.  He and his colleagues tagged 180 elk with radio collars and tracked them for several years.

Elk limited their movement as they got older. (Mark Boyce )

The data they collected showed that elk limited their time in terrain where they might be vulnerable as they got older, making themselves less visible to hunters. They also learned to move to more rugged terrain and denser forest especially during the weeks of hunting season.  The elk were even smart enough to know how to avoid hunters depending on whether the hunters were using bows or guns. 

Scientists captured and fitted elk with GPS radio collars to track how the herd animals changed their behaviour as they age when hunters are present. (Mark Boyce )

Dr. Boyce thinks other species such as moose may also learn like this, but thinks this kind of learning is more prevalent in herding animals like elk.