Firstly congratulations on securing a Wapiti block. That was the easy bit, now comes the admittedly much harder but ever so important part of evaluating the bulls you will see on your trip. It’s not an easy task and we understand nobody’s perfect, but if you follow the ‘evaluation card’ each time you see a bull and think before pulling the trigger, it’s going to improve your chances of eventually shooting a real trophy – a big old bull! Contrary to popular belief the FWF’s objective is for hunters to shoot trophy bulls – but we want these bulls to be mature animals.

Let’s go…

So you’ve hauled your butt all day to the tops and finally break out in the open. You are completely buggered but set up a camp and take off for a look. You start glassing and before you know it the biggest animal you’ve ever seen in your hunting career walks out of the bush bugling and chasing a harem of cows around. You instinctively reach for your rifle, but remember this ain’t the Ruahines and the motto “if its brown it’s down” doesn’t fly in the Wapiti blocks. You grab your ‘evaluation card’ out of your pocket and take a second look…

The following is what we think is a quick guide to gauging the age and maturity of a bull. The idea is you will study this information sheet before heading away and carry the ‘evaluation card’ around in your pocket or pouches and run through the checklist each time you see a bull. Being realistic we want any bull shot in the blocks to be at the very least six years old, and preferably eight years plus. These aren’t some random numbers we’ve plucked out of thin air, eight years is when a Wapiti bull will be in its prime and when its antlers are approaching the largest they’ll be. So it makes sense for you guys to want to secure an old bull too doesn’t it?

1. Firstly and most importantly – Pedicle Height

Maturity is directly associated with pedicle height, end of story. There are no tricks or loop holes here. A mature Wapiti bull will have no height in his pedicles at all. For those of you that do not understand the concept of pedicle height, it is the distance between the coronets (the burr at the bottom of the antlers) and the skull. A mature bull will look like his antlers come directly out of his skull. The coronets will be buried in the hair of the skull so much so they are practically invisible. If you can see any hairy pedicle, he will not be mature and will not be a shooter. Take a photo and let him grow.
The following bull is young and has high pedicles clearly visible:

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This bull is also too young, you can see pedicles here if you look closely:

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As opposed to the following bull, whose coronets are sitting hard down on his skull and no pedicles are visible at all:

Male elk bugling during the fall rut.Male elk bugling during the fall rut.

This is the bottom line, if the bull does not meet this criteria, then the other criteria are irrelevant. Take the time to be sure you have this right. If there are any visible pedicles, let him grow!

2. Antler Length

We all want to see wapiti bulls coming out of Fiordland in the 45 inch plus length bracket. Fact; the area is capable of regularly producing heads of this size and would more often if us hunters left young 40 inch bulls to mature. So how can you judge the length of a bull’s antlers accurately and know whether it reaches that desired 45 inches length. The most accurate method we’ve come up with is comparing antler length to head length. The average Wapiti bull has an 18 inch long head (nose to top of skull) so you want the antlers to be at least 2.5 times as long as the head ie 2.5 x 18 = 45 inches. Obviously the level of Red blood (they have a shorter skull) in the animal will influence the head length (and can make antlers look longer than they actually are) and that’s why this is just one measure to determine whether a bull is a shooter or not. Have a look at the below diagram:

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This bull’s antlers are 2.5 times as long as his head. I can imaginarily place his head around his antlers 2.5 times. When you are evaluating a bull you’ve spotted and can’t quite get 2.5 head lengths, he is not long enough, he is not big enough and is not a shooter!! Carry on and look around the next corner…

3. Points

Most people think a trophy Wapiti bull should have typically 12 points or more. This is a misleading evaluation criteria as Wapiti bulls can have 12 points when they are only four years old and still be significantly less than 40 inches long. Hence when you see a bull which has 12 or more points, it is even more important you check out its age!

The under seven year old and before their prime 12 pointers are the future of the herd and must not be shot!

The following two bulls carry 12 points but do not satisfy all of the other criteria. They are only four or five years old, and the second bull is less than 40 inches in length. So do not be fooled by young bulls carrying lots of points, they are most definitely not shooters! If you must take a trophy home, shoot an old 10 or 11 pointer, not an under seven year old 12 pointer!

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4. Body

The ability to judge the maturity of a Wapiti bull on the shape and size of his body takes a lot of experience. The best way to learn quickly is to visit someone who farms Elk or Wapiti). With practise you should be able to gain a rough idea on how the body of a deer transforms with age. Generally the older a wapiti bull, the more filled out he will be. His hindquarters should be as big if not bigger than his shoulders. His belly will be completely filled out with a “dropped” look to his pizzle (penis sheath) area, and his head will have a rougher and gnarly look to it.
Forgetting the antlers (block them out) the body of this bull indicates he is not mature.

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Compare the bull above to the bull following. Immediately you notice he’s got an old gnarly face, filled out belly with a “dropped” pizzle, and his hindquaters are as big as his front shoulders.

A bull elk stands over a sleeping cow, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

If in any doubt that the bull standing in front of you does not satisfy all of the above criteria, put the rifle down and leave him to grow!! It’s that simple. Take a photo and walk away if you want to help manage a truly special place and become a legend among the hunting fraternity!
Good luck guys.