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Keywords:

  • archery;
  • Cervus elaphus;
  • conception date;
  • elk;
  • hunter density;
  • hunting;
  • nutritional condition;
  • Oregon;
  • pregnancy rate

Abstract

Archery hunting in Oregon has increased dramatically over the past 2 decades. At the same time, spring juvenile to adult female ratios of Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus) have been declining. This has raised concern that archery seasons may be disrupting elk breeding and contributing to the decline in recruitment. Two mechanisms could contribute to reduced juvenile:female ratios: 1) reduced pregnancy rates, and 2) delayed conception dates because of human disturbance during the rut. We varied the number of archery hunters at the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range over 13 years to evaluate effects of archer density on reproduction of elk. Archer densities were maintained at high densities during 4 years equation image, low densities during 3 years equation image, and no archers during 6 years. We determined pregnancy status, age, kidney fat index (KFI), lactation status, and fetus conception dates for 622 female elk harvested in December. We found pregnancy rate differences of 0.105, 0.080, and 0.021 between high and no archer density years (P = 0.004), high and low archer density years (P = 0.054), and low and no archer density years (P = 0.616), respectively. Conception dates were 4 days later for high archer density compared to low archer density (P = 0.006), but did not differ between high and no archer years (2 days; P = 0.136) or between low and no archer years (2 days; P = 0.108). We compared generalized linear model estimates of pregnancy rates and determined pregnancy rates for 28% of the lactating female elk to be affected by high archer density, whereas archer densities had no significant affect on pregnancy rate estimates for non-lactating females. We found no difference in conception dates among archer densities when comparing model estimates. Our results suggest that archer density and its interaction with nutritional condition of elk influence pregnancy rates of lactating females with low KFI levels; however, the effect of archer density alone does not explain the magnitude of decline in juvenile to female ratios observed in Oregon. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.