National Geographic : 1956 Jan
Wildlife Adventuring in Jackson Hole predation is a powerful, continually operating force. In controlling numbers of animals, predation tends to hold priority over the more drastic but less steadily functioning forces, such as starvation and disease.* Geese Nest Along the Snake Whispering in its gravelly bed, the Snake River always has fascinated us with its cool, clear beauty and driving power. Business and pleasure overlapped, therefore, on trips by five-man rubber raft to gather facts about the nesting habits of Canada geese (page 8). Water from melting snows, stored behind Jackson Lake Dam, irrigates crops far down river in Idaho. We had noticed that late spring release of this water flooded goose nests built on gravel bars and small islands. This flooding should be controlled, we felt, but before making such a recommendation we had to learn how many geese nested along the river and how many young they raised. We sought out the causes of mortality both to eggs and to young. Our goose survey floats, conducted on a 40-mile stretch of the Snake River, covered 12 to 15 miles a day, with frequent stops. We counted 88 pairs of geese either nesting or exhibiting nesting behavior, such as circling on short flights or showing resentment at our intrusion. Nests averaged about two per mile, and 95 percent of them were on islands. Most sites were on elevated piles of drift or sod or on gravel bars. We estimated that flooding had destroyed about a fourth of the nests. Our study, taken in conjunction with melt-water statistics based on snow surveys, led the Bureau of Reclama tion to regulate water levels in the Snake River during the breeding season of the Canada geese. Elk Bugles a Challenge When summer yields to fall in our valley, visitors leave, more's the pity for them, for autumn is our most dramatic season. On clear September days in the high coun try, when the aspens glitter golden on the hills, it gives a tingling thrill to hear a bull elk bugling. Frequently we have glimpsed him on a hilltop in proud pose, his many pointed rack silhouetted against the sky. This is the season of the rut, and the bull elk is in his splendid prime. The elk's bugle actually is a whistle that starts at a low pitch and rises to a high crescendo, followed by several grunts. It is generally interpreted as a call to the cow elk or a challenge to other bulls. We often have called big bull elk to us by imitating their bugling, luring them to within a few hundred feet. Hunters and photographers both profit from the elk's fail ure to discriminate between the real call and the hoax. The elk in summer move into the high country of the Teton National Forest and the timbered and grassy vales of the Yel lowstone plateau. There they fatten up, raise their calves, and take life easy amid the cool alpine meadows splashed with wildflowers. The rutting season over, the elk start down for the lower country with the first heavy snows in late October or early November. The bands follow well-defined migration routes. It is during these weeks that rifle fire echoes among the hills and on the sage brush flats. Like most local elk hunters, we try to single out animals that will provide the choicest meat. We usually look for a dry cow or a spike bull, a year-old bull with his first antlers. Winter Brings Outdoor Fun If spring in Jackson Hole is the season most anticipated, summer the busiest, and fall the most colorful, winter is the loveliest, loneliest, and most stimulating (pages 29-35). Snow crunches underfoot, breath freezes, and ice crystals sift down out of the cloudless sky. Despite the cold, everybody plays outdoors. Valley folk have a choice of skiing, hockey, cutter racing, ice fishing, snowplane trips, and winter camping and river rafting. Skiing, principally on Jackson's Snow King Mountain with its chair lift and network of trails, holds the widest appeal (page 11). The fast-flowing Snake River stays open even through the coldest weather, and we have pioneered in winter rafting on it. There is danger in this sport. A spill in icy water with air temperatures below zero could easily be fatal. Sitting on the cold rubber of an inflated raft, voyagers must be warmly dressed, with windproof clothing * Results of the Craigheads' predation researches will appear in their forthcoming book, Hawks, Owls and Wildlife, to be published by the Wildlife Man agement Institute.