Tod's Blog

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

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


8 Responses to “Elk Pretzels”

  1. Hey Tod,this sounds like the feral goat count on Kauai. We spend 11.5 hours flying the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon. The goats hide in the lantana not the forest. We don’t however count sex or age just numbers. I use the patch. We don’t require ziplocks…..we have no doors if plan B is necessary. We do wear the jumpsuits just to keep us warm or if you are on the down side when your partner uses plan B. We refuel at the 150ACW station in Kokee from a bladder on the back of a pickup truck. No flame outs yet!


  2. todblog said

    I remember flying with the doors off on Lanai counting axis deer. That was warm weather flying! Flying Kauai’s Na Pali Coast was beautiful too. I had a great time helping Tom Telfer conduct a survey that started from Polihale and ended at Kee Beach. A few helicopter flights and lots of backpacking. It was gorgeous country to work in… those are some great memories.


  3. Edson said

    Hey Tod, quick story…….My neighbor in mt called with an elk story…sometime monday early morning a very large lone wolf killed an elk 30 feet from his garage and came back the next day at 9am to finish his meal………..sure wish they would allow the “gathering” of a wolf hide……..Edson.


  4. wendell said

    Yeah, I know the feeling. Nothing like “calling the moose” at 500 feet.


  5. todblog said

    I’ve never heard of that one before!
    I’ll have to add that to the list…
    Technicolor yawn
    Calling the moose


  6. Aunty Diana said

    Must say yours is not an ordinary desk job!
    Love, Aunty Diana


  7. I will definitely show this to my students, Tod. I find that many children in the city have not seen an elk and do not know the difference between a deer and an elk, so this is very educational for them. We will also check the elk count for further clarification of how much we need to “leave no trace” when we use our forests. Thank you so much for your friendship and useful knowledge!


  8. alanblog said


    I set up a basic blog and looking again at your nice blog. I will be in contact at a later date (late April) when I hope to have time to watch the baseball games in sunny warm and dry weather and talk more about hunting and habitat. Later this afternoon the wind blew hard and we had a couple of hard rain showers.

    It was a good thing to head for home.


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