You can set your watch by the elks’ movements at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Naches, Washington, on Highway 12. Hundreds of Rocky Mountain Elk mill around the feeding area waiting for their supplemental ration of alfalfa hay that is delivered at 1:30 p.m. every day.
Listen for talking, mewing and vocalizing between cows and their calves. Watch elk jostle each other while jockeying for position to get their fair share of feed. See cows square off against each other by standing up on their hind legs.
When the feed trucks start their engines, more elk descend from the hills. Usually between 500 and 800 come to eat. In extremely bad weather, more than 800 turn up.
The state started the supplemental winter feeding program in 1945 to keep elk out of agricultural areas and to prevent them from damaging crops during winter months. Now, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife oversees it. Weather calls the shots as to what months feedings are done, but it usually begins sometime in December and goes through mid-March.
You can even get a front-row seat to a feeding by signing up for one of the free truck tours offered. While you’re seated on a bench on the flat bed, the truck comes within 5-10 feet of the elk when the hay is dropped. Although you’re very close to these graceful animals that weigh from 400 to 900 pounds, you’re still very safe.
Truck drivers serve as tour guides and share the history of the area as well as answer any questions from riders. Reservations for the truck tours are recommended and donations suggested to support the feeding program.
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