While Jackson Hole is probably best known for the splendor and ruggedness of the Teton Range, the Jackson Elk Herd certainly ranks among the top characterizing features of the valley. Elk figure prominently in Jackson Hole's history and culture and are just as important to today's residents of the valley.
There are an estimated 11,000 elk in the Jackson elk herd. The elk migrate across several jurisdictional boundaries, including the National Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, Yellowstone National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Bureau of Land Management resource areas, and state and private lands. Elk use extensive spring, summer, and fall ranges to the north west, and east of the refuge and as far away as southern Yellowstone National Park. Summer distribution of the Jackson herd is estimated to be approximately 30% Grand Teton National Park, 30% Gros Ventre, 25% Yellowstone National Park, and 15% Teton Wilderness.
Elk migrations may occur over periods of a few days to several weeks. Some Jackson elk move hardly at all because their ranges are nearer the refuge, while others cover up to 60 miles between summer and winter ranges, probably farther than other elk herds in North America. Spring migrations to calving and summer range begin when the snow recedes and new vegetation appears, usually in April and May.
Most calving takes place during the transition between winter and summer ranges. After a gestation period of about 8.5 months, elk give birth in late May to early June.
Photos of wintering elk on the refuge can be found in the National Elk Refuge's photo gallery.
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Elk aren't the only species of wildlife you may see on the National Elk Refuge.