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Through the Ages


While it is possible to determine whether an elk is six months, 1 1/2 or 2 1/2 years old by looking at its incisors or front teeth, it is the cheek teeth of the lower jaw, that harbor the most reliable clues for older animals.

To get a good look at the cheek teeth (premolars and molars), you need to cut back the lip and cheek skin. If you plan to have the elk head mounted, let your taxidermist skin out the head and remove the jaw for you.

Six Months: The nose or muzzle of the elk appears short or stubby, when compared to older elk. All the immature incisors are still present. Generally, only four cheek teeth are showing. The third premolar has three cusps.

1 1/2 Years: Central two permanent front teeth are in place (see incisor inset photos). Five cheek teeth have errupted in the lower jaw. The third premolar still has three cusps and is well worn. Elk harvested later in the season may be in the process of losing this three-cusped molar. Third molar may just be starting to erupt through the gum. Lingual crest of molars have sharp points.

2 1/2 Years: Central six permanent front teeth are in place (see incisor photos). Look closely at the third cheek tooth (third premolar). The permanent tooth is two cusps, unstained, sharp, and shows little or no wear; enamel (white portion) of the lingual crest shows well above the dentine (brown portion). Third molar (sixth cheek tooth) may still be erupting.

3 1/2 Years: All permanent front teeth and cheek teeth are fully erupted and in place (see incisor photos). Last cusp of sixth cheek tooth shows little or no wear.

4 1/2 to 8 1/2 Years: Aging elk 4 1/2 to 8 1/2 years is difficult. Wear on the lingual crest and cupping of molars becomes more pronounced. By 8 1/2 years the dark portion (dentine) of the first molar (four cheek tooth) nearly surrounds the pit, or infundibula, of the tooth. In older animals the infundibula of the first molar will be completely worn away.
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WILLIAM JENSEN is a big game biologist in the Game and Fish Department Bismarck office.

This project was conducted with the cooperation of the Sybille Wildlife Conservation and Research Unit, (Wyoming Game and Fish Dept). Support was provided by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.


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