Winter rules the distant Elkhorn Mountains…where the ice floes stack streamside and snow drifts line roadways and a sea of white spans the horizon.
It is bone-chilling cold that shows little sign of thawing.
A mile away, Ed Miguez takes snow and ice in stride - ‘no big deal’ on a daily 145-mile drive across the Elkhorn Wildlife Area.
“Once we start, it’s seven days a week,” noted the wildlife area manager. “And we go until the snow goes away and typically that’s the third week in March.”
Miguez and his crew stop at 10 feeding sites each day and they will spread an 800-pound alfalfa bale at each.
The hay will feed more than 1,000 hungry elk and keeps them up in the forest rather than down on scattered ranches across nearby Baker Valley.
“We don’t miss a day!” affirmed Miguez. “The elk know from all their interactions and travels that other feed is available on those ranches.So, if you miss a day, there’s a good chance you‘ll lose some of them. It’s extremely hard for us to get them back – so, we don’t miss a day.”
The feeding program costs nearly $100,000 each year.
The money comes thru federal taxes on sporting arms and ammunition and the sales of state hunting licenses.
It’s not just elk that benefit from the unique winter program.
At another feed site, scores of mule deer showed up as if a dinner bell had been rung.
It’s remarkable to see so many of the usually shy deer so close.
“Hunger makes animals act and respond in ways that they normally wouldn’t do.”
Winter wildlife feeding began in mid-December and depending upon conditions – will continue until March.