According to research published by the University of Alberta, wary elk have a higher chance of living through hunting season.

For the study, GPS collars were placed on more than 100 male and female elk residing in southwestern Alberta. By the end of the season, hunters had killed nearly a quarter of the elk, all of which—male and female—showed bolder behaviour, including a higher movement rate and increased use of open areas. Further, all surviving elk demonstrated less conspicuous behaviour, such as moving more slowly, avoiding open areas, and exploring new territory less frequently.

While big, male elk with large racks are traditionally considered prime targets for hunters, this study is the first to show that these qualities don’t necessarily mean they’ll be shot. Instead, an elk’s “personality” is a much stronger indicator on whether it will survive the hunting season, says lead researcher of the study, Simone Ciuti. “Up until now it was believed the physical traits of an elk dictated what animals were taken by hunters,” Ciuti explains.

The results of this study have even led the researchers to theorize that elk populations could eventually evolve to become less “gutsy” and more skittish, opposing adaptive responses to natural and sexual selection.

Ciuti and his U of A co-author, biologist Mark Boyce worked with researchers from Canada and Ireland. Their research was published in early September in Proceedings B, the Royal Society's flagship biological research journal.