Big game on the move in eastern Idaho
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“Elk on the right – elk on the left!!!! I exclaimed as my rock-hunting partner was driving us across the INL early Tuesday morning. Mike was able to dodge the elk as they crossed the road.
That herd of elk has been giving the early workers out on the site a gauntlet to run in the pre-dawn morning darkness. With the time change this weekend, the evening commute will also become an obstacle course.
It is that time of the year when the big game animals are migrating from the mountains down to the desert flats and sometimes, getting into a pushing match at 70 mile per hour with them leaves no winners. Last year just north Hamer, there were over 20 head of elk hit and killed along Interstate 15. Already this year several elk have been hit on U.S. Highway 26 and Idaho Highway 33 along with numerous deer and antelope.
Tuesday evening while heading home from hunting rocks around Challis, we observed another large herd of elk near Challis along with two herds of bighorn sheep. We also saw over 50 head of deer from Challis to Arco and several herds of Pronghorns along U.S. Highway 93.
With a predicted storm on Wednesday, I called my friend Steve Meyers and we planned a trip to Lone Pine along Birch Creek to see if we could catch the bighorns moving out of the mountains as their rut should be starting. The cloud covered windy Snake River Plain gave way to mostly sunny skies with less wind as we turned off Highway 33 on to the Salmon Highway west of Mud Lake.
Pronghorns dotted the low sage on the INL property, and we passed a dead one that did not survive a collision, but the ravens were having their breakfast, thankful that someone had prepared fast food for them. As we neared Lone Pine near the mouth of Skull Canyon, a herd of mule deer and a small group of Bighorns were feeding in a field. A little further on we saw a larger herd of Bighorn with a ram chasing after a female.
We later ran into the rancher, and he told us that the ewes and lambs had moved down on his property just a week before and the mature rams had showed up on Monday.
“Last night we had 41 head here near our equipment with six large rams in the bunch,” he told us. “It is still early for their rut, but it should start in the next week or 10 days. The Department of Fish and Game are planning on removing some of them that have a disease. They want to try to make these Bighorns disease-free, but I am not sure when that will happen. The most I have ever seen here were about 60 head and it will get exciting as the rut gets going.”
The snow on the high peaks of the mountains will continue to push all the big game animals down to the edge of the mountains. This will not only create an opportunity for them to be observed, but also increase their chances of being hit by vehicles.
Other good places to observe these magnificent animals are on Highway 93 from Challis to Salmon, at William’s Lake are near Salmon and near Hebgen Lake in Montana.
Steve and I took the opportunity to drive up to see the charcoal kilns used almost 100 years ago to supple heat for smelters at the Nicola mines. He had not visited them for about 20 years and they have weathered since he last saw them. On that short trip back to Lone Pine we saw deer, elk and more pronghorns working the meadows near Birch Creek.
In your travels, please be alert to the migration routes of the big game animals. The Idaho Department of Transportation have placed blinking warning signs in the most used areas, but until the animals learn to use automated crosswalks with blinking lights, like the BYU-I students use in Rexburg, it is up to us to always be vigilant.
Have an exciting and a safe week. I am praying for some cold weather to freeze over some lakes so I can do some ice fishing, I’ve got my gear ready. It is also time to hang out the bird feeders if you want some entertainment from them this winter.