Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stars of the 2010 Elk Rut -- Freak Show the 8x7 Bull Elk

Freak Show, A Must-See 8x7 Bull Elk in the 2010 Elk Rut
This is a picture of Freak Show, one of the first arrivals to the 2010 rut. As we approach the rut, I want to introduce you to the 2010 herd bulls, the big bull elk that have a reasonable chance of breeding in the 2010 rut. I am choosing Freak Show as my first entry because of his totally wild rack. He is no doubt descended from the huge irregular bull that the AGFC has featured in so many different publications.

By my first count, Freak Show is an 8x7. Last year he was the first bull I observed rutting in Boxley Valley. This morning was the first time I have seen him this year. Like many of the other herd bulls, he is arriving after spending his time in more remote areas away from Boxley Valley.

If you look close at the picture of Freak Show, you will see he still has velvet drying on his antlers, so he has some more rubbing to do.

This morning the elk viewing and photography was quite good, but to have the best chances, one had to get to the Boxley Valley early. Freak Show only made a brief appearance and it was before 7 AM, then he disappeared into the woods. As his hormones rage he will be more concerned with the cow elk than fleeing from view. As we get closer to the rut, the viewing times will get progressively longer as well.

If you are a serious elk fan, Freak Show is one of the bulls to put on your must see (must photograph) list. This year he has joined the big league. He is a must-see bull elk for the 2010 season.

This morning I had Boxley Valley to myself. This always amazes me. I was not only able to photograph Freak  Show for the first time, I shot other bull elk grazing around a creek further south where the Buffalo is quite close to the road. I got so close to one of the big bulls I had to shoot him at 100 mm. Even though we are not now in the rut, there are excellent chances for elk watchers and viewers now if they get to Boxley Valley early. It is time to plan you annual visits.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010 Elk Rut Setting Up

The last two days in Boxley Valley show that the 2010 elk rut is coming soon. The biggest bull elk have moved down from the Upper Wilderness area and are pooling around the consensus elk viewing hot spot, the intersection of Highways 43 and 21. 

Photographing Elk in Boxley Valley 8/28/10
Two different herds of cow elk are in the valley now. They are both north and south of the intersection. I would estimate that there are perhaps 70 elk now in the Boxley Valley setting up for the beginning of the rut, now just a couple of weeks off. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I observed very early rutting behavior last year around the end of August. Things will really kick in two weeks later, about September 15, with the peak a bit later. 

I am seeing more photographers all the time. Most interest is in getting pictures of the bull elk. For the first time this year, they are starting to spar now and then. The velvet scraping that began about mid-August is generally complete with the exception of a couple of animals. 

Pretty soon the big boys will be squaring off. When they fight you can hear the clatter up and down Boxley Valley. Most of what people see is sparring, but when the big boys battle, it is an unforgettable experience. 

If you are a photographer your absolute best chances now at in the very early morning. You will see cow elk later than the big bulls. There was some sparring in the 43/21 field this morning. I always recommend that you get to the valley at daybreak and locate the elk. Remember the first elk you see might not be the best photo opportunity. Getting there early will give you time to survey the fields and make sure you get the best chances. Rookies stop at the first elk they see, pros make sure they locate the best animals. 

After your morning elk shoot, it is a short hop up the valley to the Boxley Mill Pond for another photo opportunity. 4 trumpeter swans are now on the pond. There are some great opportunities to shoot moody trumpeter shots in light morning fog. 

Another choice is to go for landscape shots both in the Boxley Valley and in Steel Creek along Roark Bluff. This is a great time to shoot brackets in preparation for HDR interpretations. With our current huge memory cards, bracketing is practical. If you have not tried HDR photography, you need to. It will expand your creative expression and allow you to get great images that are otherwise just about impossible. 

A fourth choice is butterfly photography. Even with this drought, there are patches of roadside flowers that are covered with butterflies. The drought has killed many wildflowers, so the flowers that remain are slammed with butterflies. Shooting is really good now, the challenge is finding the flowers. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Countdown to 2010 Arkansas Elk Rut

Terribly hot weather has impacted elk viewing lately, along with haying in the fields by the highways 43 and 21 intersection. These are only temporary setbacks, there are 50 elk in Boxley Valley, just on the back fields biding their time until the big dance, now just a month away.

This last week I saw the biggest bulls scraping off their velvet, too far away to photograph effectively. Nonetheless, this was right on time, so no weather factors have shifted the timetable for the rut.

From now on I will be blogging on the elk rut. Many of the monster bulls have already shown up in Boxley Valley. These big guys will be the stars of the show now less than a month away.

Last year, I heard the first bugle around September 1, but clearly that was an outlier. The big event will begin around September 15 and last for many weeks. The third week in September to the first week of October is generally consider the peak of the rut, but cow elk return to estrous in 30 day cycles until they are successfully bred. This means the end of the rut is at least a month after the peak, and rutting behavior often extends to the end of the year.

It is time to making your plans to visit for the 2010 rut. The single best source for cabins is This lodging is all located close to the Boxley Valley, the best place to view elk in the south.

I will be writing more on the elk rut in the coming weeks. Check my site for more information. The advice there is valid across the years.

Thanks to all of you who have responded to the call to action on the elk hunt issue. Arkansas' Boxley Valley and Ponca area is the elk viewing capital of the South. We need to protect this national treasure.

If you haven't written, please do so. We need more elk viewing, not less. Our economy depends on it. Elk viewing is a gateway to educate our children about nature and the great outdoors. Elk tourism is one of the cornerstones of Arkansas tourism.

Stay tuned as the buildup to the rut continues. This once a year event is like Christmas to wildlife lovers and photographers from all over Arkanas and the neighboring states.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Boxley Valley Elk Viewing and Photography Under Threat

A handful of Boxley Valley farmers are advocating for a hunt to abate nuisance allegations concerning the elk herd. At this time, it appears that the AGFC is in agreement with them, and plans for a Boxley Valley elk hunt are being considered. The stated goal is to drive the elk back into the wild from Boxley Valley. If this plan succeeds, it will destroy elk tourism, and along with it, the regional tourism economy.  This plan has been drawn up in the deepest recession in memory, it is a terrible idea. We simply cannot afford the economic losses. 

There is time to stop this hunt, and help AGFC understand that our Arkansas elk herd is a cash cow from a wildlife watching perspective. The evidence is clear to anyone close to elk watching tourism that it has great economic importance to the state, it might be the #1 wildlife watching attraction. In view of the very small size of the elk herd, 450 animals, elk watching and photography is probably the very most important public payoff associated with the elk herd. Elk watching should be the 80% emphasis of AGFC elk programs, not elk hunting which is extremely limited due to the small herd, and offers no significant economic benefit comparatively. 

There is plenty of evidence to support the view that elk watching pays far more dividends than elk hunting. The website has grown 100% year over year, and in the last year attracted 15,000 wildlife watchers from all 50 states and 33 foreign countries. The Ponca Elk Education Center draws more traffic than all other AGFC education centers combined, and it has experienced strong year over year increases. This tourism traffic comes from all over Arkansas and virtually every state in the union. 

We need now to act to re-balance the elk management program to elk watching rather than elk hunting. Common sense indicates that if you only have 450 animals, you are not seriously in the elk hunting game, that is a future objective. If you have excess elk anywhere, they should be re-located, not killed, to build more viewing resources, with the thought of eventually expanding the herd to have an expanded hunt. 

There is reason to suspect the complaints of the farmers are exaggerated and largely history. Many of the problems no longer exist because a food plot at the intersection of highways 43 and 21 moved the elk herd south two years ago. Problems listed by the farmers in the hearing included fence damage, tourism, and food competition. Since the food plot was created, the elk no longer range the valley as they once did. The 30-50 typical resident elk are pretty much parked in the food plot now. This is also the 90%+ viewing area, so the tourism complaints have little to do with other parts of the valley. 

Certainly one could not complain about elk in a food plot created to attract elk. That would be pretty over-the-top. 

If there are excess elk, they should be relocated to establish larger herds elsewhere, not killed.  Arkansas needs more elk, not fewer elk. Relocation is the only sensible option because it offers the prospect of expanding elk watching tourism in areas like the Gene Rush WMA. If we could create one more Boxley Valley class viewing venue, it would depressurize Boxley Valley, and cement Arkansas' standing as the #1 elk viewing destination in the south, greatly expanding revenues to the state. 

We need to act now to head off this ill conceived plan. I don't believe the AGFC understands the magnitude of elk watching tourism. If it did, and it expanded on the economic power of this attraction, it would have a still higher standing in state government. Done right, elk watching revenues alone could pay for the entire AGFC budget. If I were the AGFC director, elk management would be moved and become the centerpiece of its wildlife watching programs. It is hardly mentioned there now, a huge missed opportunity. 

How to Stop the Proposed Boxley Valley Elk Hunt
Write Cory Gray at to express your opposition to a Boxley Valley elk hunt. This must be done as soon as possible. His phone number is 877-367-3559. If you would, please cc: so we can track emails to AGFC on this issue. We must act now, the future of elk tourism is in the balance. Comment closes by the 15th

If you don't act, we could lose Boxley Valley elk viewing and photography. The time is now. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

2010 Arkansas Elk Rut

Elk fans should be gearing up for the 2010 Arkansas Elk Rut in historic Boxley Valley. In less than 6 weeks we will be in the thick of the 2010 elk rut as massive herd bulls vie for control of breeding rights. Each year more and more people have discovered that Boxley Valley is the single best place for elk viewing in many states. Prime time is from mid-September to mid-October. It is during this period that bull elk fight before settling into the normal rut.

By far the best and most reliable viewing is along Highway 43 in the fields north and south of the Highway 21 intersection. It is true that elk do stray into other fields now and then, but these fields have been planted as feed plots for the elk who prefer them.

Photographers and elk viewers should equip themselves with long telephoto lenses and good binoculars. A 400MM lens is ideal, but a 200MM lens will with with a multiplier. 10x binoculars are ideal for getting up close.

Stay tuned to this blog for up-to-date information on the stages of the rut. We are now in the preliminary staging. From about mid-month until early September bull elk are rubbing velvet off their antlers on trees. They have pretty much completed their antler growth by now since the antler drop in late March and early April. Visitors might see this scraping off of the velvet around mid-August, but generally that will require very early morning or late evening visits.

Bugling will begin in mid-September, but it peaks later in the month. Last year I hear the first bugle of the season in mid-August, and the last one in December, but these are very rare outliers, and perhaps temporary insanity. Hearing an elk bugle for the first time is a revelation, an experience that should not be missed.

I will tell you when I hear the first bugling of any significance. That is in the future now.

If you plan to come in late September you can take advantage of the Ozark Mountain Artists Studio Tour. This year the event will be September 17th to 19th. The tour is a great event for the whole family and a perfect compliment to fall elk viewing that is a morning and evening affair. For more information on the Tour visit their website, . This year is the 4th edition of this popular event that draws from 5 states.

Stay tuned for updates on the elk rut and fall events in the Buffalor River region.

In Other Matters
After 3 years this is the right time to move my blog to Google Blogger from Word Press. I prefer the look and feel of Blogger, and it meets my needs for a simple way to convey news. My suspicion is that hardly anyone looks backward at old posts, so that is kind of irrelevant. Any post of permanent value is probably reworked and elsewhere on the site as part of the permanent content.