This heritage species of elk, indigenous to only California, was thought to have become extinct by the 1860’s after a massive kill-off just prior and during California’s Gold Rush of 1849. Cattle Baron Henry Miller’s working vaqueros found a pair of these elk in the marsh as they were clearing land for
Miller’s cattle in 1873. As part of a unique conservation attempt to save these elk, a hand full of these elk were released into Lake and Colusa Counties in 1923 as the first free-roaming herd of elk. When Bill Van Pelt purchased this 590 acre parcel in 1997, he was greeted by a herd of Tule Elk on his first visit to the property. Bill vowed that he would create a safe haven for them. He created ponds for the elks enjoyment, planted their favorite grasses so they would flourish, and protected the herd from poachers.
Antlers: Incredibly, male elk shed and grow a new set of antlers every year that can weigh up to 40 pounds. The antlers are made out of bone and as they grow in the spring they are covered with a system of nourishing blood vessels that looks like velvet.
Rutting: Adult bulls join the cow herds in July. Males often engage in full-fledged, head-to-head combat with their antlers. Eventually the master bull drives all other bulls from the herd to keep rivals away from his harem of up to 30 cows. Only about 10% of bulls will mate; the unsuccessful bulls remain bachelors. When the demands of herding, defending, fighting, breeding, and placating 30 cows eventually wear out the master bull, he too will be driven off and replaced by fresher secondary bulls.
Calving: Calves gestate for 250 days and arrive in late spring, weighing 20 to 25 pounds. The cow leaves the herd to give birth and remains solitary until her calf becomes strong enough to run with the herd. Calves nurse for four or five months, but start nibbling on grass when they are less than one month old.