Tod's Blog

Adventures with family & friends and other things I'm passionate about…

Archive for March, 2009

Elk Pretzels

Posted by todblog on March 8, 2009

March 7, 2009

Each winter, skiers and snowboarders look forward to the snow that winter storms bring to the mountains and they pay close attention to the website to see what new storms the “weatherman” says are coming. I find myself monitoring weather websites for a different reason, I’m looking for a break in the weather to get out and look for elk.

February is the time of year that we conduct our annual aerial elk surveys in the Coast and Cascade Ranges. The “weatherman” provides a 7-day forecast but, winter weather systems moving onshore from the Pacific Ocean mixed with an occasional Arctic blast throw curve balls at the “weatherman” and his ability to provide accurate forecasts. In other words, this time of year that usually means check the forecast again tomorrow.

Timing the weather is a big deal. Flying in heavy fog, low clouds, gusty winds, or storms is not only unsafe but, also makes for tough conditions to see elk. Some of the best survey results are obtained just after a storm when elk are out and about leaving fresh tracks in the snow, feeding and soaking up the sun. Our goal is to find elk and obtain numbers on herd composition (bulls, cows, calves) and population trend.

The “fun” begins when someone shouts out, “I got some elk!”

The helicopter pilot then veers around and does his best to keep the elk out of the trees while the crew counts the total number of elk and calls out the number of calves and bulls. The bulls are recorded by the number of points on their antlers (spike to 6pt+). After adding the calves and bulls, the remaining number of elk are tallied-up as cows. Sometimes that means several passes or circles around to push them out from trees or to get them to line out and walk single file for a good count.

If there’s a time for butterflies to flutter in your stomach, that’s when they will show up. Moving up, down, sideways, trying to focus on writing on a clipboard,… I find eating a bunch of pretzels and saltines prior to flying to be very helpful in settling my stomach along with a stick of spearmint gum while we’re flying for a couple hours. Of course there’s also a Ziplock plastic bag in my flight suit in case I should need to go with Plan B.

If you’re interested in seeing the results of elk surveys conducted by Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, you can find the reports online at


Flight crew ready to head out for an afternoon elk survey in the South Umpqua area.


A clear morning in the Tioga Unit


An afternoon elk flight in the Upper North Umpqua drainage.


East Tioga bulls found in a reprod unit.


Cows and calves found on an afternoon flight in the North Dixon Wildlife Unit


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