Elk and Bighorn Sheep Feeding - Oak Creek Wildlife
The Oak Creek Wildlife Area is managed by the State of Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife. A supplemental winter feeding program
maintains the Yakima elk herd on department lands during the winter;
up to 1,200 elk, including about 90 branched-antlered bulls, can
be seen at feeding times.
Recognized primarily as winter range for elk, its multipurpose
acreage insures permanent populations of fish, elk, deer, bear,
chukar, partridge, quail, grouse, and hundreds other other species.
in addition, the wildlife area preserves many miles of streambank
access for fishermen. The Oak Creek Wildlife Area was purchased with funds obtained from
sportsmen through the Federal Pittman-Robinson Act and established
When snow blankets the mountains, the elk are forced to migrate
to the foothills to find food. Here, they come into conflict with
man, whose orchards, ranches, and homes occupy land that the elk
need for winter range. Wintering elk may eat from 3 to 10 pounds of hay per day at the
feeding stations, most of which is grown and purchased from Washington
farmers. During a severe winter, as many as 8,000 elk may use feeding
areas. Elk begin arriving as early as mid-November, with the largest
part of the herd arriving in January.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Oak Creek and Cleman Mountain Feeding Stations
The Discover Pass is REQUIRED to view the elk at the Oak Creek Feeding Station. The cost is $11.50 for a daily pass.
When: January and February are the
best months for viewing the elk. However, the feeding schedule is tied to the weather and a normal winter feeding season stretches from mid-December
to early March.
The biggest gathering of elk is when the elk are fed daily at 1:30 pm at
the Oak Creek Headquarters, and the bighorn sheep are fed mid-morning
at the Cleman Mountain Feeding site.
What to bring: Bring a camera, extra
film, warm clothes, binoculars, and a lunch.
Visitor Center hours: 9:00
a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
center at the Oak Creek Headquarters is open every day during the feeding season and is staffed by Wildlife Education
Corps volunteers. Look for the helpful folks in the blue vests and
caps to answer your questions. The center has a video program, exhibits, and a kids' corner.
There is no charge to view the exhibits, but donations are welcomed.
Donations are used to pay for the feeding program.
Popular Truck Tours: The staff at
the Oak Creek Headquarters will take visitors on truck tours out
amongst the elk as they are feeding. Tours are on both a first come-first
serve and reservation basis. The tours are supported by participant
donations, which are encouraged so that the tour program can be
In addition to the elk feeding stations, a bighorn sheep feeding
station is located nearby at the Cleman Mountain site on the Oak Creek
For more information or to reserve a truck tour, call the Oak Creek Wildlife area at (509) 653-2390 - 9-4.
The Visitor Center at the Oak Creek Headquarters is located
2 miles west of the junction of Highways 12 and 410 on Highway
12, approximately 20 miles west of Yakima.
After you turn left at the Y Junction onto Highway 12, look for the sign on the
right of the highway. This historical sign explains the origins
of the Oak Creek Game Range.
You can park by the sign and climb the stairs and
see the elk on the hillside. But the best viewing area is at the Feeding Station - continue west on Highway
12 one mile to the feeding station.
You can help maintain and protect the wildlife viewing areas by:
Keeping your campsite clean and removing your litter
Driving only on designated open roads
Leaving wildlife alone, especially during critical wintering
periods and during the spring when females are having their young.
Respecting this Wildlife Area and the wildlife on it as if it
were your own.
During Visitor Center opening hours (9-4), staff and volunteers can give you more information
on the tours and about road closures to protect wintering wildlife
throughout the wildlife area.
Rocky Mountain Elk Facts
Rocky Mountain Elk were introduced into Yakima County in 1913.
Bulls average 450-900 lbs.
Yearling bulls weigh less than mature bulls
Cows average 400-650 lbs.
Born in late May to early July weigh about 30 lbs.
Cows are pregnant for 270 days
Twins are rare
Only found on the bulls
Begin growing when bull is one year old
During the growth period, the antlers are covered with
a fuzzy skin called velvet
Velvet covers antlers until fall, providing nutrients
used for protection and rut.
They fall off in mid-March
to May and regrow by August.
Bulls are noted for bugling during the fall rut (mating
Bugling is used to challenge other males and attract
Winter Feeding Station activities
History of the Rocky Mountain Elk in Yakima County
In 1913 a group of landowners, sportsmen and Yakima County officials
introduced Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park to
the Yakima area of eastern Washington. Unlike the Roosevelt elk of the Olympic Peninsula, Rocky Mountain
elk are migratory by nature and may travel as much as 70 miles from
the spring-to-fall habitat in the upper-elevations of the Cascades
to their wintering areas at lower elevations.
In the mid-1940s, the Department
of Fish and Wildlife (then the Department of Game) began the early stages of the wildlife area by building
almost 100 miles of 8-foot-high fences to keep the elk from damaging
private property in the Tieton, Naches, and Wenas Creek valleys,
as well as on the south side of the Kittitas Valley.
In 1939, the department established the 67,100 acre Oak Creek Wildlife
Area to preserve winter homes for the Yakima elk herd of 3,000.
Primarily recognized as elk herd winter range, Oak Creek is a sparsely
timbered area in the grassy foothills with diversified habitat that
benefits other wildlife as well.
Spring: As the snows melt in the spring, the elk follow the snowline to
higher elevations. The bulls gradually separate from the herd and
lose their antlers in March and April. Rodents eat the shed antlers,
unless they are found soon after shedding by a lucky hiker. To reduce
harassment to the elk, most department lands are closed to public
entry during the March-April period.
Summer: Cows and calves form groups that are led by older cows. Calves
are born in May and June, about the same time the bulls begin to
grow new antlers. Elk feed on grasses and sedges that grow in the meadows through
the short summer. This nutritious feed helps the cows provide milk
for growing calves and fattens the adult elk for the leaner months
Fall: During late September and October, the bulls rejoin the cows and
calves for the mating season or "rut". At this time, the
high country rings with the sound of bulls bugling, whistling, and
barking in competition for cows. As days shorten with the advance
of the season and snow returns to the high country, the elk once
again migrate to lower elevations, where you'll be able to see them once the snow falls at the feeding stations.
Rocky Mountain & California Bighorn Sheep Facts
Bighorn sheep are medium-sized, stout ungulates.
Rocky Mountain sheep are larger than the California sub species.
Rocky Mountain - Adult male - 6 lb. (72.6-143.3 kg)
California – Adult male - 181-205 lb. (82.1-93.0 kg)
Bighorn -Adult Male - 128–315 lb. (58–143 kg)
Bighorn - Adult female - 75–201 lb. (34–91 kg)
Bighorn sheep can live to 17 years of age, but general life expectancy
for both sub-species is 10 to
Born in May and June
Weigh about 7 to 10 lbs.
Gestation period for ewes is approximately 180 days
Twins do occur
Both rams and ewes have horns
Horns are curled on older rams, short and pointed on ewes
Never fall off and continue to grow through sheep's lifetime
Annulus, or dark band, shows one year's growth
History of Bighorn Sheep in Yakima County
Rocky Mountain and California bighorn sheep both exist in Washington
State. Both are native to the state but disappeared in the 1930s.
The exact reason for their demise is unknown, but we suspect the
cause to be the transmission of disease and parasites from domestic
sheep. Other contributing factors may have been excessive harvest
and increasing human encroachment.
In 1957, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brought
California Bighorn Sheep from British Columbia and placed them on
the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County. An additional herd
of California Bighorn Sheep, now about 200 in number, was established
in the Cleman Mountain area through the efforts of area sportsmen,
who brought sheep from British Columbia in 1967, thus restoring
sheep to their native range in the state. Recent surveys indicate
that there are approximately 650 California bighorns throughout
Washington State and the population is increasing.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep are found in northeast and southeast
Washington. There are currently about 200 Rocky Mountain Bighorn
Sheep in Washington State and their numbers are rising. Restoration
of both varieties of these sheep to their historic range in the
State of Washington is a wildlife success story.
High elevation sheep habitat similar to that found in the Rocky
Mountain states does not exist in the State of Washington, but the
sheep do very well in the lower elevation area of Cleman Mountain,
where they live on grasses and shrubs and occupy open timber areas.
During the winter months, rams and ewes of all ages congregate
at the Cleman Mountain feeding station. In the spring, the older
rams separate into bachelor groups. Also in spring, the young rams
(1-1/2 to 3 years of age) remain close, although separated, from
the ewes and lambs. Once the lambs are born, these young rams become
castoffs. The herd now will consist of the ewes, newborns, and the
previous year's offspring. Mature rams do not rejoin the herd until
the breeding season in early November. As winter sets in, the sheep
seek sun-warmed, lower elevation, southern-facing slopes where snow
accumulation is lightest.
Both rams and ewes grow horns that are not shed but continue to
grow throughout the animal's life. Ewes' horns are small and pointed;
rams' horns are larger and curl. It may take a ram 7 to 8 years
to develop a full curl. A dark band, called an annulus, forms each
year on the horns during mating season. By counting these bands,
it is possible to closely estimate the animal's age.
Bighorn sheep are well adapted to living on rocky slopes and existing
on little water - making do on sedges - and are attracted to mineral
and salt licks.
Viewing and photographic opportunities exist at the Cleman Mountain
winter feeding station where up to 150 sheep congregate during feeding
times. The Cleman feeding station is accessible in the winter and
is located a half mile east of the junction of Highways 410 and
12 on the Old Naches Highway.