Wapiti Winter Weekend - Fri 30th Jun Sun 2nd Jul 2023
The Foundation

Wapiti Bull Evaluation

Quick guide to gauging the age and maturity of a bull. The idea is you will study this information before heading away and carry your phone with the FWF app around in your pocket or pouches and run through the checklist each time you see a bull.

How to age a Bull

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 app’ 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 to secure the future of the herd. Wapiti hunters entering the Wapiti blocks are going to see young bulls with huge antlers, and it is so important to the future of this herd that these bulls live!

Wapiti Bull Evaluation
Wapiti Bull A

Lets 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 phone out of your pocket, open the evaluation app, 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 before heading away and carry your phone and app 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 preferably eight years plus. This isn’t some random number we’ve plucked out of thin air, eight years is when a Wapiti bull will be approaching its prime, and when its antlers are approaching the largest they’ll be. So it makes sense for you guys who want a big trophy to want to try and secure an old bull too doesn’t it?

1. Body Shape

The ability to judge the maturity of a Wapiti bull on the shape and size of his body takes a lot of experience. If you have followed the Age the Bull series in the magazine, then hopefully you’ll have a fair idea.

Another way to learn quickly is to visit someone who farms Elk or Wapiti and look at full range of age classes. With practise you should be able to gain a good 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 will be getting progressively 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.

Most importantly he will carry his head a lot lower than a younger bull. An upright head stance is a sure indication of a young bull.

Forgetting the antlers (block them out) the body of the bull on pg 1 (A) indicates he is not mature. Note his very upright head position.

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

Wapiti Bull B
Pedical height
Wapiti Bull C

2. Pedicle Height

Maturity is directly associated with pedicle height. There are no 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, or space under the coronets above the skull, he will not be anywhere near mature enough and will not be a shooter. Take a photo and let him grow.

Bull D is young and has high pedicles clearly visible:
Bull E is also too young, you can see pedicles here if you look closely:

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

Bottom line.
If the bull does not meet the body confirmation and pedicle height criteria, then the following criteria are irrelevant. Take the time to be sure you have this right.

3. Behaviour

Generally, wapiti are a trans-alpine animal and travel between both bush and alpine areas for various reasons – safety, food and shelter. So when looking for your mature bull put yourself in their shoes. Would you be roaming all of the open country bugling your head off for all and sundry to see and d hear if you’d managed to survive 8+ bugles?

Most of the young bulls taken during the rut get shot in this situation – in the open, bugling. One thing we do know about Wapiti is immature bulls areextremely bold. While the FWF team are doing deer recovery they very rarely encounter mature bulls away from cover.

Most of the time they are in cover or right on the edge at first or last light. But that’s not to say a young bull could not be in the same edge-type situation, so always check out the previous two criteria – body confirmation and pedicle height.

Pedicle Height
Wapiti Bull D
Antler Length
Wapiti Bull E

4. 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 diagram:
This bull’s antlers are over 2.5 times as long as his head. I can imaginarily place his head around his antlers 2.5 times. This will help you evaluate the size of a bull you’ve spotted, but its not the bottom line on whether you should be pulling the trigger – age is the first hurdle to get past before you worry about his length. And there is no harm in shooting an 8+ year old bull of any length if you feel it is a character trophy you’d like to carry out.

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Wapiti F
Wapiti Bull F

5. Points

Most people think a trophy Wapiti bull should have typically 12 points or more. This is potentially damaging 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 eight year old and before their prime 12 pointers are the very future of the herd and must not be shot!

These two bulls (F and G) carry 12 points but do not satisfy the most important age criteria.

Plenty of 12pt bulls are 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 eight
year old 12 pointer!

The take-home message we must get across here is please take the time to evaluate your bulls properly. And you cannot do this in seconds. It takes many minutes of careful scrutiny to go through this evaluation process, and requires good optics unless the bull is at point blank range.

If in any doubt that the bull standing in front of you does not satisfy the age criteria, put the rifle down and leave him to grow!! It’s that simple.

We all owe it to the Wapiti herd to do our best to get this right, or their future is bleak. Leave the culling to the FWF who live and breathe Wapiti evaluation. Take a photo and walk away if you want to help manage a truly special place and become a legend among the hunting fraternity!

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