What is a Brow Tined Bull Elk? A Guide to Identifying This Unique Subspecies

For elk hunters, understanding the terminology and regulations around brow tined bull elk is essential. But for newcomers to elk hunting, the term likely raises some questions. What exactly is a brow tined bull elk? In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about identifying and hunting this unique subspecies of elk.

Overview of Bull Elk Antler Growth

To understand brow tines, let’s first look at some key facts about bull elk antler growth

  • Antlers grow from the pedicle, a bony structure on the skull.

  • Bulls shed antlers each winter then regrow a larger set in spring

  • As bulls mature over several years, antlers develop more mass and points.

  • Antler size peaks between ages 5-10 when bulls are in their prime.

  • Configurations vary based on genetics, nutrition and health.

  • Each subspecies has distinctive antler characteristics.

What Makes a Brow Tined Bull Elk Unique?

The defining feature of a brow tined bull elk is the prominent brow tine protruding from the main antler beam close to the skull.

Key traits include:

  • A brow tine over 4 inches long extending forward from the main beam.

  • The brow tine positioned above the eye guards (G1 and G2 points).

  • Much more prominent brow tine compared to other elk subspecies.

  • Often extra tall and heavily palmated antlers overall.

  • Found in the Rocky Mountain region primarily.

  • Largest of the elk subspecies.

The prominent brow tine gives bulls a recognizable look aided by their sheer size.

Significance of Brow Tines to Hunters

For hunters, brow tines hold significance in these ways:

  • Help identify the bull as a mature animal versus a spike.

  • Indicates a unique genetics and subspecies.

  • Required for harvest in “brow-tined bull only” hunting units.

  • Adds score when measuring antlers under scoring systems.

  • Considered a desirable trophy trait by some hunters.

  • Their prominence makes identifying brow tined bulls easier at a distance.

So brow tines serve both functional and aesthetic purposes for hunters in pursuing bull elk.

“Brow Tined Bull Only” Regulations

In certain elk hunting units, regulations limit harvest to “brow tined bulls only”:

  • Designed to protect younger spike bulls from harvest pressure.

  • Allows cows and calves of either sex to still be harvested.

  • Requires bulls have at least one significant brow tine to be legal.

  • Does not restrict branch antler points elsewhere on the rack.

  • Spikes lacking a brow tine cannot be harvested in these units.

  • Shooters must visually confirm brow tines before firing.

Strategies for Identifying Brow Tined Bulls

When hunting in brow tined bull units, hunters must properly identify them first. Useful approaches include:

  • Learn what a legal brow tine looks like for reference.

  • Focus optics on the antler nearest the face to spot the brow tine.

  • Look for the brow tine raised above the eye guards.

  • Confirm brow length exceeds legal requirements.

  • Watch for symmetrical matched brow tines.

  • Brow tines often protrude forward versus upward.

  • Judge brow prominence in proportion to overall rack size.

  • When uncertain, don’t shoot until confirming brow tines.

Taking these steps helps avoid illegally harvesting spikes where brow tined bulls are required.

Physical Attributes Beyond Antlers

Mature brow tined bulls exhibit other physical traits:

  • Larger stature, up to 5 feet tall at the shoulder.

  • Thick muscular neck reinforced to support large antlers.

  • A shaggy dark mane extending from shoulders up the neck.

  • A barrel chest and muscular front shoulders.

  • Overall body mass over 800 lbs. on average.

These features help distinguish mature brow tined bulls from younger spikes at distances too far to see antlers clearly.

Behavioral Differences of Brow Tined Bulls

A bull’s behavior also changes as it matures:

  • Becomes less tolerant of rival bulls in its proximity.

  • Will more aggressively bugle, thrash brush and wallow during rut.

  • Displays greater interest in cow elk for building harems.

  • No longer accompanies cow/calf groups as a spike would.

  • Spends more time alone or in bachelor groups away from cows.

  • Adopts more reclusive habits and wariness.

These tendencies reflect the transition from spike to mature bull as brow tines develop.

Why Protect Young Spike Bulls?

Limiting harvests to brow tined bulls only helps conserve elk populations by:

  • Allowing spike bulls to reach maturity and breed.

  • Maintaining a diverse age structure among bulls.

  • Preventing overharvest of prime bulls.

  • Encouraging selective hunting for older aged bulls.

  • Reducing hunting pressure on cows and calves.

  • Optimizing harvest of cows for meat provisioning.

  • Maintaining sufficient bulls in the overall herd.

Spotting Brow Tined Bulls While Scouting

When scouting elk habitat, focus observations on:

  • Bulls exhibiting territorial behaviors like bugling, wallowing, or marking trees.

  • Watching neck movements to spot antlers with brow tines.

  • Glassed bulls with sufficient antler growth to likely have brow tines.

  • Groups of cows often still have a mature bull nearby during the regular seasons.

  • Identifying secluded areas bulls use between the rutting and regular seasons.

  • Logging the GPS locations of brow tined bulls spotted to help plan future hunts.

Fair Chase Hunting Ethics for Brow Tined Bulls

When pursuing brow tined bulls, hunters should:

  • Not attempt shots at any bull until confirming brow tines are present.

  • Refrain from using unethical Spot and Stalk tactics.

  • Never take long shots with insufficient visibility.

  • Pass up shots on legal brow tined bulls that fail to provide a clean kill.

  • Focus on the experience rather than antler size alone.

  • Avoid pressuring the same bulls repeatedly.

  • Respect public and private lands equally.

Ethical hunters prioritize fair chase principles and the welfare of bulls over trophy antlers.

Closing Thoughts

6 brow tined Bull


What size elk is considered a trophy?

Any bull upward of 380 or 400 pounds is likely to be in or near his prime. The same goes for cows anywhere above 300 to 350 pounds. As expert elk-hunter Scott Hatch puts it, “If they look like a big yellow bus,” they’re probably a trophy elk well worth hunting.

What is a 6 point elk called?

TINES DEFINE BULLS A bull elk, then, is defined by the number of tines it produces. If a bull has six tines, it is called a Royal; seven, an Imperial; eight, a Monarch.

What is a legal bull elk in Montana?

For your Montana bow hunt, any elk is legal except for a “spike” bull. For your Montana rifle hunt, only a brow tined bull is legal, which is defined as a bull with a brow tine at least 4″ long on the bottom half of his main beam.

What is considered a spike elk in Montana?

Spike bull: An elk, usually 11⁄2 years old (also known as a yearling), with antlers that do not branch. Or, if branched, the point (tine) is less than 4 inches long from the tip to the main antler beam. Roughly 20 percent of yearling bulls have a point longer than 4 inches long.

Are brow tines a good bull?

Brow tines will often appear prehistorically big. This is the sort of bull that every hunter dreams of, and that tycoons pay hundreds of thousands to hunt. Not a high-scoring trophy by classic standards, but a very nice bull and a great bull for the New Mexico region.

What is a spike bull elk?

Spike bull: An elk, usually 11⁄2years old (also known as a yearling), with antlers that do not branch. Or, if branched, the point (tine) is less than 4 inches long from the tip to the main antler beam. Roughly 20 percent of yearling bulls have a point longer than 4 inches long.

How do you tell if an elk has antlers?

On a big elk, the distance from the burr of the antler to the tip of the nose is about 15-4/8 inches. Let’s start at the bottom of the antlers and work up. A curved brow tine that appears to reach the end of the nose will be about 18 inches long.

How many brow tines does a bull have?

Bulls of 360″ or more in score will have long tines all the way up, from the first brow tine to the fifth. 5: Super-bulls. Count yourself lucky to see one or two free-range bulls of this caliber in your lifetime. These are the super-bulls that score in the 370– 400 range, and on occasion even more.

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