When It’s Time For A Diversion Excursion, Visit The Elk Herd.

Sleigh pulled by Percheron horses takes people out to help feed elk in Donnelly, ID, near McCall. Light snowfall speckles the scene. The Points family has been feeding wild elk on their land to help them survive winter for three generations.
Credit: Yvette Cardozo

Yes, Idaho has some delicious skiing. Yes, some people want to do something else. In winter. In the snow.

And so, in the McCall area, there’s the elk feeding trip.

Back in 1983, Lyle Points’ pop, Vernon, started to worry about the elk on his land. These were wild animals. And in harsh winters, they were doing badly.

“No elk is going to starve on my place,” he declared.

Why not give them a bit of help?

Hungry elk come in to eat from hay bales on a sled which takes people out to watch the elk feeding.
Credit: Yvette Cardozo

So he started dragging bags of hay out, sometimes breaking trail through five feet of snow, to give the elk a bit more food when food was REALLY hard to find.

Thus started a family legacy which has now stretched to three generations.

These days, the public helps. For $20 (less for kids) you climb into a sleigh, sit on bales of hay and go out to the nearby woods where the herd of Rocky Mountain Elk are patiently waiting.

They, meaning the elk, not Lyle, have worked out a system. They actually take turns, some coming to nibble the hay from right under your rump, others sitting a few yards away until the next sleigh comes along.

Sometimes, it’s three sleigh loads a day. Sometimes only one. Sometimes none. But they still don’t go hungry because, as Lyle explained, “This is just the appetizer. Later, I will go out with more bales, cut them into chunks and drop them in a line.”

Like crumbs on the floor.

This winter was the snowiest, the coldest, the harshest in 30 years. Food was even harder to find than normal. And there are the wolves.

“I figure giving the elk some extra food is an extra bit of help to survive,” Lyle explained.

As it is, the herd is down to 180 elk from previous years when it could sometimes reach 300.

And so, my friends and I climbed into Lyle’s sleigh, pulled by his two handsome, coal black Percheron horses and headed for the nearby woods.

We all sat on fresh bales of hay and it didn’t take long for the elk to come over.

It’s the cows (females) and young males with tiny antlers that nudge in. There ARE bulls, some with seven point antlers (yes, that’s a LARGE rack). But the bulls just sit there, keeping watch.

Okay, it is truly a bit strange to have a large wild animal nibble eagerly at something your rump is resting on. You can actually feel them chew. And certainly hear them as they crunch.

There’s a temptation to reach out and pet their furry heads, maybe stroke the small antlers of “teenage” males. But don’t.

Lyle has rules. You don’t touch. You don’t get up. You certainly don’t feed them if you brought snacks for the kids.

Meanwhile, during the ride, Lyle talked about elk, about how they eat and digest in their four-part stomach, what they eat on their own (any plant they can find), how many bales he takes out a day (16 – 20) and how his family got into the elk feeding thing because, well, they couldn’t bear so see such beautiful animals suffer.

We were out there for more than an hour. Plenty of time for everyone to take a LOT of pictures and videos.

Click here for the website.  Or call 208-325-8783. It’s $20 for adults, less for children. This is strictly winter. You ride out on a sleigh, sitting on hay bales. Grandkids LOVE it.

Visitors sit on hay bales while elk come in to feed on the hay. Kids know Lyle’s rule: Don’t touch.
Credit: Yvette Cardozo

One Comment

  1. Mike Stebbins says:

    Feeding livestock and elk with sleigh teams is becoming more and more common in this part of the country. Horses are better friends than trucks and the never get stuck in the snow


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