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Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? It wanted to grow old.

Not even a chuckle?

The corny ‘chicken crossing the road’ joke illustrates the most effective method for growing large antlered, old grey-muzzled bull elk. You must keep them out of harms’ way.

This winter, after 10 years of trying to minimize hunter harvest of bull elk on MPG Ranch, one iconic bull used the last of his energy reserves to leave the timbered backcountry of the north Sapphires to reach the gentle terrain of the Bitterroot River bottom. He died above the flood plain on March 19, 2019. An MPG Ranch biologist estimated his age at 12-15 years old. He was the first bull elk to die of old age on MPG Ranch. Sad? Absolutely. And yet, it was a milestone in elk management for the ranch.

Hunting of mature bull elk, bulls 4 years old and older, does not occur on MPG Ranch. We manage these elk so a healthy percentage of bulls grow old, roam the countryside and do old bull things. Slowly, the number of older bulls using MPG Ranch is growing.

Everyone working at MPG Ranch understands and supports that wildlife in Montana is owned by Montanans. We use hunting by the public as a means of controlling the elk population. We allow hunters access for hunting antlerless elk. Focusing on female harvest to control an elk population is sound wildlife management. Hunters on MPG Ranch harvested over 250 antlerless elk over the past 5 years.

Wildlife management agencies create elk population objectives to guide hunting season structure. Private landowners create elk population objectives as well and we conduct ourselves within the legal framework established by the state.

Sharing the resource with those who own it is the right thing to do. Honoring the resource by allowing some bull elk to grow old is a good thing too.

About the Author

Craig Jourdonnais

Craig graduated with a B.S. in wildlife management in 1982 and completed his M.S. degree in Range Management in 1985 from the University of Montana School of Forestry. Craig worked seasonal wildlife tech positions with U.S. Forest Service, Bitterroot National Forest and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks during his college career. Craig completed his Master’s research using prescribed fire and cattle grazing on a rough fescue winter range to improve elk forage conditions on the Sun River Wildlife Management Area. Results from this research are published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Craig spent the next 33 years working for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He spent one year on the East Front Grizzly Project, 3 years as a state game warden, 15 years as a statewide wildlife video production specialist and his remaining tenure as the area wildlife biologist in the Gallatin, Madison and Bitterroot Valleys.

Craig works as a youth hunt coordinator and big game researcher for MPG Ranch. Craig spends his time away from MPG Ranch with his family hunting, fishing, floating and hiking. He is a competitive swimmer and coaches U.S. Masters swimming, teaches big game management for One Montana’s Montana Hunter Advancement Program, and serves as Big Game Committee Chairman for the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association.