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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Elk - Cervus canadensis
Other Names:  Wapiti

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Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
FWP Conservation Tier: 3


 

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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
 
General Description
Coat brown (pale yellowish in old bulls); head, neck, and legs darker than the rest of body; distinctive rump patch yellowish to almost orange; mane or ruff longer in bulls than in cow; antlers of mature bulls generally have five tines projecting from the main branch for a total of six points; bulls can weigh more than 1,000 lbs. before the rut but seldom exceed 900 lbs. during hunting season; cows weigh 500 to 600 lbs. in bitterbush hillsides in winter. Strong herding instinct; old cows usually lead summer herds of cows, calves, and yearling (spike) bulls; in western Montana, Elk usually summer at higher elevations and move down to grass and/or shrub winter ranges (with nearby trees for thermal cover); habitat use strongly influenced by human activities.

General Distribution
Montana Range



Montana Distribution


Western Hemisphere Range

 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 6028

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
Migratory in some areas (Sun River, North Yellowstone) moving between seasonal ranges, non-migratory in others.

Habitat
Mainly coniferous forests interspersed with natural or man-made openings (mountain meadows, grasslands, burns, and logged areas). Varies between populations and areas. Basic habitat components: security, shelter (may use to maintain thermal equilibrium) and forage production. Moist sites preferred in summmer. High open road densities reduce habitat effectiveness. Good winter range critical.

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Grasses, sedges, forbs, deciduous shrubs (especially williow and serviceberry) and young trees (especially chokecherry and maple), some conifers. Varies between ranges. Where shrubs and grasses are available, grass is preferred. Browse may be used, particularly in winter and on western ranges. Conifers and arboreal lichens may also be used. Grass most important in spring. Forbs important in summer.

Ecology
A Line Creek study from 1988 to 1991 indicated that oil drilling activity in the area had no effect on size of home-range boundaries or use, use of core area, and centers of activity (Van Dyke and Klein 1996). Very adaptable (usually to local conditions). Elk, cattle and sheep may compete, particularly under poor rangeland conditions. MT Cooperative Elk Logging study (1970 to 1985) supplied information on coordinated Elk and timber management. Elk population levels and food source tend to be in a dynamic equilibrium. Mortality in Elk calves in Yellowstone National Park is partially density dependent (Singer et al. 1997).

Reproductive Characteristics
Breed in late September and early October; one spotted calf; shed antlers during March or April; bulls gather and hold harems, challenge one another by bugling; cows usually breed when 2 1/2 years old. Polyestrous if initial fertilization does not occur. Parturition mid-May to mid-June. Twins are rare. Productivity varies - poor range condition may decrease calf production and early calf survival. Predation on calves occasionally significant.

References
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
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    • Allen, E. 0., and H. R. Chrest, eds. 1973. Proc. Western States Elk Workshop, Bozeman. 151 pp.
    • Allen, E. 0., et aI. 1973. Cooperative elk-logging study. Prog. Rep. Jan. I-Dec. 31, 1972. Montana Dept. of Fish and Game. 80 pp.
    • Allen, E. 0., et al. 1974. Cooperative elk-logging study. Prog. Rep. Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 1973, Montana Dept. of Fish and Game. 164 pp.
    • Allen, E. 0., et al. 1975. Cooperative elk-logging study. Prog. Rep. for the period Jan. I-Dec. 31, 1972, Montana Dept. of Fish and Game. 172 pp.
    • Allen, E. O. 1971. Elk-logging relationships in the northern Rocky Mountains. NW Sect. Wildl. Soc. Meeting, Bozeman, MT.
    • Allen, E. O. 1974. Effects of logging on elk populations. State of Montana, Proj. No. W-120-R-5.
    • Allen, E. O. 1977. A new perspective for elk habitat management. MT Dept. Fish and Game.
    • Allen, Eugene O. 1970. Migration habits of the Gallatin Elk Herd. Montana Outdoors 5:4-6
    • Alt, K. L., M. R. Frisina and F. J. King. 1992. Coordinated management of elk and cattle, a perspective - Wall Creek Wildlife Management Area. Rangelands 14:12-15.
    • Altmann, M. 1958. Management plan for the Northern elk herd, Yellowstone National Park. USDI National Park Service, Doc. 1134. 11 pp.
    • American Field. 1900. Number of elk in Yellowstone Park. 53:5.
    • American Gem Corporations, USA, Helena, MT., 1996, Application for an Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operations: Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Granite County, Montana. August 1996
    • Anderson, C. The management of elk -nature's cattle (mimeo). 9 pp.
    • Angstman, J. B., and J. E. Gaab. 1950. West GalIatin winter elk study, 1949-1950. Mont. Fish and Game Comm., Wildl. Restor. Div., Quar. Rep. 10(2):33-34.
    • Anonymous. 1876. Hunting wapiti on the Loup. Field and Stream 6(13): 193, 6(14):211-212.
    • Anonymous. 1887. Eight elk slaughtered by poachers in the park. Field and Stream 29:441.
    • Anonymous. 1890. Effects of protection on elk of the national park. Field and Stream 34:84.
    • Anonymous. 1892. Elk, Yellowstone National Park. Field and Stream 38: 102, 539.
    • Anonymous. 1897. Elk in Yellowstone. Field and Stream 48.1.
    • Anonymous. 1908. Elk likely to starve in Yellowstone Park. Field and Stream 70:487, 494.
    • Anonymous. 1911. Elk in Montana. BioI. Circ. 82: 10.
    • Anonymous. 1913. Elk in Yellowstone Park. Outdoor Life 31:89.
    • Anonymous. 1914. Restocking the country with elk. Field and Stream 81:178.
    • Anonymous. 1914. Yellowstone Park elk in 1914. Outdoor Life 34:66.
    • Anonymous. 1916. Extend the Yellowstone Park. Outdoor Life 17:267.
    • Anonymous. 1917. Elk in Yellowstone Park. Sportsmen's Review 51:384.
    • Anonymous. 1928. Sportsmen move to save the elk. Western-Out-of-Doors 5(4):22.
    • Anonymous. 1929. Proposed wildlife survey, National Park Service: elk survey in the Yellowstone country. J. Mammal. 10:371-372.
    • Anonymous. 1931. Moose-elk in Montana. Calif. Fish and Game. 17: 198.
    • Anonymous. 1936. Abandonment of Sun River elk preserve to be investigated. Mont. Fish and Game Notes :22-23.
    • Anonymous. 1950. Elk planting program. Montana Fish and Game Comm. 1949-1950 Biennial Rep.
    • Anonymous. 1961. The Upper Gallatin elk herd -- cooperative management. Montana Wildlife. July.
    • Anonymous. 1964. A review of some events affecting managenlent of the Upper Gallatin elk herd. Unpubl. Spec. Rep. Montana Fish and Game Department, Helena. 46 pp.
    • Anonymous. 1964. Sun River elk herd, 1910-1964. Unpubl. Spec. Rep. Montana Fish and Game Dept. 53 pp.
    • Anonymous. 1966. Special Upper GalIatin elk season, 1965-1966. UnpubI. Rep. Montana Fish and Game Dept., Bozeman.
    • Anonymous. 1967. The paradox of the YelIowstone elk. NatI. WildI. 5(6):18-19.
    • Anonymous. 1977. Montana cooperative elk-logging study. Prog. Rep. for the period Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 1976. 115 pp.
    • Anonymous. 1987. Interagency Rocky Mountain Front Wildlife Monitoring/Evaluation Program Management Guidelines for Selected Species. USDI Bureau of Land Management. 71 pp.
    • Ball, L. A. 1958. Elk nutrition: the response of elk calves to various winter diets under controlled conditions. M.S. thesis. Montana State University.
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    • Barmore, W.F. 1965. Aspen-elk relationships on the Northern Yellowstone winter range. West. Assoc. Game and Fish Comm. Elk Workshop. 16 pp.
    • Barnes, W. C. 1912. Report on the elk using the rangesof the national forests surrounding the Yellowstone National Park. USDI For. Serv. Spec. Rep. 71 pp.
    • Barnes, W. C. 1925. Tagging the elk. Am. For. and Forest Life 31:35.
    • Basile, J. V. 1970. Fertilizing to improve elk winter range in Montana. U. S. For. Serv. Res. Note INT-113.
    • Beak Consultants, Inc., Portland, OR., 1983, Wildlife. January 1983. In Stillwater Project Environmental Studies. Addendum A, Wildlife. Vol. I. Tech. Report No. 7. 1982.
    • Beall, R. C. 1974. Winter habitat selection and use by a western Montana elk herd. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Montana, Missoula. 197 pp.
    • Biggins, D. E. 1975. Seasonal habitat selection and movements of the Spotted Bear elk herd. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula.
    • Bohne, J. R. 1974. Food habits, seasonal distribution, and habitat utilization of elk in the South Fork of Fish Creek, Lolo National Forest, Montana. State of MT, Proj. No. W-120-R-2, 3.
    • Boyce, M. S. and L. D. Hayden-Wing (eds.). 1980. North American Elk: ecology, behavior, and management. 294 pp.
    • Brazda, A. R. 1952. Elk migration patterns and some of the factors affecting movements in the Gallatin River drainage, Montana. M.S. thesis, Montana State College, Bozeman. 42 pp.
    • Brazda, A. R. 1953. Elk migration patterns, and some of the factors affecting movements in the Gallatin River drainage, Montana. J. Wildl. Mgmt. 17(1):9-23.
    • Brown, D. L. 1954. Census and survey of established elk herds. Mont. Fish and Game Dep., Wildl. Restor. Div., Quar.Rep.
    • Brown, D. L. 1954. Eastern Montana big game surveys -- elk trapping and tagging on the Judith Game Range. Mont. Fish and Game Dep. W-59-R-l 5(2).
    • Brown, D. L. 1955. Deer and elk trapping and tagging on Judith Game Range. Mont. Fish and Game Dept., P-R Quart. Rept. Proj. W-59-R-26(2).
    • Burcham, M. B., L. J. Lyon and C. L. Marcum. 1990. Elk winter habitat selections in response to winter conditions. Western States and Provinces Elk Workshop, Eureka, Calif.
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    • Cahalane, V. H. 1943. Elk management and herd regulations - Yellowstone National Park. Trans. N. Am. WildI. Conf. 8:95101.
    • Camp Dresser & McKee, Inc., 1990, Stillwater Chromite Project Baseline Data Report: Hydrology and Wildlife Monitoring, Hydrology - November 1988 through November 1989, Wildlife - November 1988 through February 1990. June 30, 1990
    • Campbell, R. B., and C. J. Knowles. 1978. Elk-hunter-livestock interactions in the Missouri River Breaks. Mont. Fish and Game Dept. Job Final Rep. Proj. W-130R- 9, Job 1-6.5. 153 pp.
    • Canfield, J. E. 1984. Elk habitat use and the impact of a 500-KV powerline on the North Boulder winter range, Montana. M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman. 130 pp.
    • Canfield, J. E. 1987. Comparison of preseason and early hunting season habitat parameters at radioed-elk relocations near DeBorgia, MT. Final Rep. Lolo National Forest, USDA For. Serv., and Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 21 pp.
    • Canfield, J. E. 1988. Impact mitigation and monitoring of the BP 500-KV Garrison-Taft transmission line -- effects on elk security and hunter opportunity. Final Rep. Montana Dept. Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 161 pp.
    • Canfield, J. E. 1991. Applying radio telemetry data to timber sale effects analysis in the Harvey and Eightmile drainages in west-eentral Montana. Pp. 44-54 in A. G. Christensen, L. J. Lyon and T. N. Lonner, comps., Proc. Elk Vulnerability Symposium, Montana State University, Bozeman. 330 pp.
    • Canfield, J. E., J. L. Lyon, and J. M. Hillis. 1986. The influence of viewing angle on elk hiding cover in young timber stands. Research Paper INT-371. Ogden, UT. USDA, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 5pp.
    • Carpenter, M. S. 1921. Depletion of Montana elk. Outdoor Life 47:181.
    • Casagranda, L. G. 1950. Aerial count Little Belt elk herd. Mont. Fish and Game, WildI. Restor. Div., Quar. Rep. Jan.-Mar.
    • Casagranda, L. G. 1958. Big game survey and investigations - elk surveys, May 1, 1957 - April 30, 1958. Mont. Fish and Game Comm. P-R Proj. W-74-R-3.
    • Casagranda, L. G. 1959. Big game surveys and investigations - elk surveys. Mont. Fish and Game Comm. P-R Proj. W-74-R4. 23 pp.
    • Casagranda, L. G., H. Picton, and R. Janson. 1958. Big game survey and investigations elk surveys. Mont. Fish and Game Comm. P-R Proj. W-74-R-4. 23 pp.
    • Cheatum, E. L., and J. E. Gaab. 1952. Productivity of North Yellowstone elk as indicated by ovary analysis. Proc. West. Assoc. State Game and Fish Comm. 32: 174-177.
    • Child, F. W. 1935. Management of the Yellowstone elk. Am. WildI. 24(5):69,7778.
    • Christensen, A. G., L. J. Lyon and T. N. Lonner, comps. 1991. Proc. of a symposium on elk vulnerability, Bozeman. 330 pp.
    • Claus, K. D. 1962. Survey of Clostridium hemolyticum in elk. Bot. and Bact., Vet. Res. Lab, Montana State College, Bozeman. 2 pp.
    • Cole, G. F. 1957. A vigor measurement method for determining trends in the condition of key forage bunchgrasses on Montana elk ranges. Job Completion Rep., Proj. W-37-R-8. Montana Dept. of Fish and Game. 20 pp.
    • Cole, G. F. 1959. Little Belt elk food habits and range use investigations. Game range survey. Mont. Fish and Game Dept. P-R Job CompI. Rep., Proj. W-37-R-I0.
    • Cole, G. F. 1969. Little Belt elk food habits and range use investigations. Game range survey. P-R Job Compl. Rep. Proj. W37- R-10, Joh H-5. Montana Fish and Game Dept.
    • Cole, G. F. 1983. A naturally regulated elk population. Pp. 62-81 in F. L. Bunnell, D. s. Eastlnan, and M. M. Peck, eds., Symposium on Natural Regulation of Wildlife Populations, Proc. No. 14, Forest, Wildlife and Range Exp. Sta., University of Idaho. 225 pp.
    • Conaway, C. 1952. The age at sexual maturity in male elk (Cervus canadensis). J. WildI. Manage. 16:313-315.
    • Constan, K. 1967. Bighorn sheep range use, food habits and relationships to mule deer and elk in Gallatin Canyon. State of Montana, Project No. W-98-R-7-8.
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    • Peek, J. 1966. Comparison of two mid-winter elk hunting seasons, upper Gallatin drainage, Montana. Presented at West. Assn. of St. Game & Fish Comm. 46 Conf., Butte.
    • Peek, J. M and A. L. Lovaas. 1968. Differential distribution of elk by sex and age on the Gallatin winter range, MT. Jour. Wildl. Mgmt. 32(3):553-557.
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    • Pengelly, W. L. 1960. Elk population problems in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, Montana. University of California Wildland Research Center, O.R.R.C. Rep. No.3. 60 pp.
    • Pengelly, W. L. 1963. "Thunder on the Yellowstone." Naturalist: 18-25.
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    • Picton, H. D. 1960. Migration patterns of the Sun River elk herd, Montana. J. Wildl. Mgmt. 24(3):279-290.
    • Picton, H. D. 1966. Sun River ups and downs. Northwestern Fish and Game. 2 pp.
    • Picton, H. D. 1971. Elk, economics and recreational development. NW Sec., The Wildl. Soc., Bozeman.
    • Picton, H. D. 1973. The measurement of hunting quality. Pp. 53-57 in E. O. Allen and H. R. Chrest, oos., Proc. West. States Elk Workshop, West. Assoc. Fish and Game Comm., Bozeman.
    • Picton, H. D. 1974. Amino acid microheterogenity in elk hair. Unpubl. Rep., USDI National Park Service. 8 pp.
    • Picton, H. D. 1980. Elk and measurement of land use impacts. J. Soil and Water Cons. 35:93-95.
    • Picton, H. D. 1981. Land use impacts on elk: an eight year field test of computer predictions. Proc. NW Sec., The WildI. Soc., Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. 15 pp.
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    • Pillmore, R. E. 1963. DDT residues in deer and elk from areas sprayed with DDT for spruce budworm control. USDI Fish and Wildl. Serv., Wildl. Res. Work Unit, Wildl. Res. Center, Denver. Work unit B. 8 pp.
    • Presidente, P. J. A. 1968. Infectivity and immunogenic capability of Dictyocaulus species from elk and cattle in experimentally infected bovine calves. M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman. 41 pp.
    • Quimby, D. C., and J. E. Gaab. 1952. Preliminary report on a study of elk dentition as a means of determining age classes. Proc. Ann. Conf. West. Assoc. of State Game and Fish Comm. 32:225-227.
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    • Ruff. R. L. 1963. Major biological problems in managing the northt:rn dk herd of Yellowstone National Park. M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Missoula. 25 pp.
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    • Rush, W. M. 1930. Exceptionally large elk antlers. Yellowstone Nature Notes 7(10):73.
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    • Rush, W. M. 1930. Montana elk bag less than 1,000. Montana WildI. 2:13-14.
    • Rush, W. M. 1930. Recommendations for improving the present method of taking elk from the northern elk herd. M.S., filed in Yellowstone Must:um. 3 pp.
    • Rush, W. M. 1930. The Northern Yellowstone elk herd. Montana Fish and Game Comm. 1929-30 Biennial Rep. 2122.
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    • Rush, W. M. 1931. Cow elk is cunning mother. Montana WildI. 4(4):11-14.
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    • Rush, W. M. 1932. Bang's disease in the Yellowstone National Park buftido and elk herds. J. Mammal. 13:371-372.
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    • Scott, M. D. 1978. Elk habitat selection and use on an undisturbed summer range in western Montana. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 98 pp.
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    • Smith, G. A. 1930. The Sun River elk herd. J. For. 28:644 647.
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    • Squier, E. L. 1924. Hater of ladies; Bill, a Yellowstone elk. Am. Mag. 54-56.
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    • Stevens, D. R. 1966. Range relationships of elk and livestock, Crow Creek Drainage, Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 30:349-363.
    • Stevens, D.R. 1965. Range relationships of elk and livestock in the Crow Creek Drainage, Elkhorn Mountains, Montana. M.S. Thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman. 68 pp.
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    • Stockstad, D. S. 1954. Evaluating the helicopter for aerial census and hunting on elk. Montana Fish and Game Dept., P-R Quarterly Rep., April-June: 182-186.
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