Friday, September 30, 2011

9/30/11 Map -- September Patterns in Review

As September closes, we have to be pleased with the start of the 2011 elk rut. At times there have been as many as 7 small herds with bulls, but most of the time there have been less.

The 2011 rut got underway early with the first rutting bull showing up the first week of the month. By mid-month, it felt like the rut was starting earlier than most years. The last week of September things hit another gear with many more cow elk coming into estrous. New big bulls showed up at the end of the month.

Bull fights will be common now but only occasionally visible. Fights happen in the woods, along the rivers, and at night. It is a bit hard to predict when they might occur. The key is context, meaning that herds near one another, and the presence of many satellite bulls, increase the odds of a fight greatly. For at least the month of September, the field down by Smith Creek on the south end of Boxley Valley has been the very best viewing location and the most likely place for a fight. That field holds the Boxley Beast, a very dominant bull elk. Only in the last part of the month has a herd shown up in the Ponca Fields.

On the great news front, this year Boxley Valley has a bull in the super trophy class. Prince is an 8x8 symmetrical atypical bull. His twin drop tines with twin spikes on each one, has to be as fine a rack as has been seen in Arkansas. Today he has started moving north in Boxley Valley, away from the south field he has occupied for at least 2 weeks. Visitors will want to see this bull.

Starting tomorrow, I will post a brand new October calendar. The dates are too crowded to do the whole season on one calendar. I will post the September calendar right under the new October calendar for reference until after the first couple of weeks.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

When Kindness Kills

Help Us Protect This Calf Elk
This photographer, like many others, was approached by this calf elk. Someone, surely not her, has been feeding this orphaned calf elk and he is now tame.

I alerted the AGFC through the Ponca Elk Education Center of this situation. At this time the plan is to get this calf relocated. He is currently along Highway 43 near the Mill Pond.

Please avoid contact with this animal. If you visit, be on the alert for him. He will not avoid traffic well and is a danger to himself and others.

All the cautions I have offered about driving slowly in Boxley Valley should be doubled during the rut. This tame calf just makes things more dangerous.

Please drive at 40MPH or slower. I drive in the 30's in areas where I know elk are. During the rut amorous bulls run everywhere, and like this calf, they are not so careful. Go slowly and be safe. The 6 miles of Boxley Valley can be driven in under 10 minutes at slow speeds. Going 55 is insane during the rut.

Let's hope this little guy will survive long enough to be relocated.

9/29/11 Elk Herd Locations

After today's warm weather, a cooling period will bring ideal temperatures and significantly longer viewing times, and improved viewing. There were plenty of elk hanging around this morning but they pretty much left the fields by 8:30AM. I expect significantly longer viewing this weekend. Even if nothing changed, this is prime time and the elk viewing is just great.

Lots of bugling.  We are in the peak period of activity in the 2011 Arkansas Elk Rut. This weekend will be absolutely great elk viewing.

Today's elk herd location map is below:

Elk Herd Locations 9/29/11

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

9/28/11 Elk Herd Location Report

Scene from Bull Fight by Smith Creek
Nice prime time action this morning with lots of bugling and one bull fight. The number of visible elk herds is down from 7 to 5 this AM. This is a very dynamic time and herds will move around a lot. Apparently a couple of the herds headed off to the back fields.

The fight I saw this morning was between a couple of big satellite bulls in the south field by Smith Creek. These guys are a couple of years away from being dominant herd bulls, and they fought like herd bulls. I only caught the tail end of the fight, but I got a real decent shot.

The south end down by Smith Creek remains the best place to view and photograph elk. While all the bulls in the valley are bugling, there is a lot more bugling in the south end due to the concentration of satellite bulls.

There is a calf elk that is graze along roadside by the mill pond. It has been accompanied by a couple of orphaned whitetail fawns. Watch for these and drive very carefully.

Weekend Weather Will Be Great

According to the latest weather forecast, highs will be in the lower to mid 70's, and lows in the low 50's or even high 40's this weekend.  Wednesday is usually a pretty good day to predict weekend weather for the coming weekend. This is an ideal weather forecast for elk viewing.

If you have been timing your visit, this weekend is a great choice. The elk rut is at the beginning of the peak. For photographers clear skies will make photography more difficult, but there are many good pictures to be had at the ends of the day. The field at the south end of Boxley Valley is on the west side of 21 so the early light would be ideal. Most other fields in the valley are better suited to evening shooting, they are on the east side of the highway.

If you spend the day, this is also ideal hiking weather. During the mid day the elk will probably not be visible. Consider taking a side trip to Lost Valley. It is located in the upper third of Boxley Valley near the elk observation pullout. The trail is ideal for families. It is relatively flat, short, and very scenic. It is consistently rated at the top of hiking trails in the Buffalo National River system.

Visitors should also plan on visiting the award winning Ponca Elk Education Center in Ponca. This is a national class facility. It has many educational exhibits and free posters, educational materials, and paper antlers for the kids.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

9/27/11 Map -- Same Bull Elk Pattern as Yesterday

The elk herd location map for 9/27/11 is below.

Bull locations and IDs same as last entry. Yesterday there was a confirmed fight in the field just north of Smith Creek. The Boxley Beast squared off for a long fight with (I assume Godzilla) and won after a 15-20 minute battle. The Beast is a dominating bull and he is proving it in 2011. That south field is probably the best forage in the valley now, other fields have been hayed. The Beast put down roots and he is staying for sure.

Great viewing and lots of bugling. The south end remains the best viewing. Fights can happen any time as the bulls are now working out their pecking order for 2011. Usually the early part of the rut has the most bull fights, but they are still rare.

Monday, September 26, 2011

9/26/11 Report -- 2011 Elk Rut is Smokin'

The 2011 Elk Rut in Boxley Valley is really smoking now. The bulls have arrived and there are 7 herds with herd bulls going now. Of course, most of these are small -- a bull with a handful of cow elk. The big guy remains the Boxley Beast in the south end of the Smith Creek Field.

Visitors will find elk in all the traditional fields from one end of the valley to the other. This morning the bulls were bugling until 10 when I left. In the early morning light they were really bugling often.

Here is the lineup of  7 herds and bulls from North to South:

  • Ponca Fields -- Junk Yard Dog (JYD) -- New arrival, he has nearly perfect rack that is kind of round. A great bull with a handful in his harem. He was a late bull last year. (Ponca Fields)
  • Middle Valley Field -- Pretty Boy, an early rut bull from last year is in the middle valley field, not a great viewing spot. He is still a bit small, I expect him to be replaced. 
  • 43/21 Intersection -- Many bulls and a small group of cows. No ID on the herd bull. 
  • Moore Creek Field -- Small group of cows with no ID on the herd bull. 
  • North End of Smith Creek Field -- Godzilla with a handfull of cow elk. 
  • South End of Smith Creek Field -- Boxley Beast and a nice harem, probably the largest.
  • Trailhead to the Upper Wilderness -- Maverick with a handful of cows. 

The conditions could not be better for viewing. My choice would be the south end by Smith Creek. I believe the traffic is lower there and there are plenty of animals and lots of bugling. Also, be on the lookout for Prince. He is a satellite bull to the Boxley Beast herd.

Be safe and drive carefully. The elk are moving around a lot and cross the highway more often in rut.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

9/25/11 Elk Herd Report

The very best elk viewing continues to be in the field just north of Smith Creek at the south end of Boxley Valley. Lots of bugling.

Viewing has really picked up now. Last night there were 25 cars in the valley. This morning there were more -- perhaps as many as 35-40.  The south end field has the biggest herd in the valley, and a second herd. The Boxley Beast has no significant challengers so far. Prince, one of the satellite bulls to this south herd, remains the most visually striking bull seen in the valley in many years -- probably over 10. (See my last post.) A second herd headed by Maverick shares the north end of that south field.

The 2011 elk rut is now in its peak in Boxley Valley. This coupled with perfect viewing weather has extended viewing hours significantly. Yesterday the elk were out at 3:00 in the afternoon. They were still in the fields at 9AM today when I left. These viewing times will compress a lot if the heat returns.  I still recommend getting to the valley by daybreak, roughly 7AM for the very best viewing.

As I predicted, a herd now occupies the Ponca fields at the north end of the valley. I looked at the bull this morning and he looks like Pretty Boy. I don't think he can hold his harem as the biggest bulls filter into the 2011 rut, he is still a couple of years away in size.

There is another herd behind a horse field in the mid-valley area.

Currently there are 4 herds worth looking at in Boxley Valley. Bugling is everywhere, but frequent around the south end. Straggler bulls can be observed along the cane lines on their way to joining the rut.

If you plan to visit the rut, the very best time is now and the next two weeks, although it will be very good for at least until the end of October.

Introducing the Prince of Boxley -- A Bull for the Ages

2011 stunner, the Prince. In my many years of photographing elk in Boxley Valley I have never seen a bull like this one. 8x8 irregular, two drop tines. Nearly perfect symmetry. A must-see animal. This big guy is only a satellite bull now, but just imagine him in the next few years.  

He showed up yesterday, part of this second wave that has showed up this week. 

The Prince is a bull you will want to see and want to photograph. He has double drop tines each with two points making him an 8x8. This rack is very rare.  A trophy picture for sure. He looks like a statue outside of Bass Pro -- he is that class. 

I thought at first this might be the Boxley Stud, but he is too small and his eye guards are not quite the same. He is a year or two away from being a herd bull class animal. Let's hope with these great genetics he will breed a lot. 

He is currently in the south end as a satellite to the Boxley Beast's herd. He is too small to be a serious challenger but in a couple of years he may be the new ruler. 

The Prince of Boxley Valley -- A Bull Elk Everyone Must-See

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Elk Rut Now at Peak -- 9/24/11 Report

The 2011 Elk Rut is now at peak, there is no question. This high level of activity will continue for another 3 to 4 weeks. During this early period of the rut bull elk fights are most common, but seeing one is a rare event, even for frequent visitors. Sparring by satellite bulls is fairly common.

What is meant by "being at peak"? A few things. First, there are many more cows in heat now. You can see this by the behavior of the bulls. Second, the very biggest bulls have now arrived. In the last few days the Boxley Stud and Bubba Stud bulls have joined the rut. There are two more bulls that are herd bull class that I have not ID'ed or named, but I have seen them.

Over the next week or so, the stuggle for control of a herd of cows will pick up. Bull elk now have many estrous cows to motivate them. It is their scent that has motivated the big boys to join the rut. Stars of the 2010 rut are now back. The current main contenders are the Boxley Beast, Maverick, Hacksaw, and the Bubba Stud all with cows now.  The Boxley Stud and Godzilla are satellite bulls to the south field where the Boxley Beast and Maverick have harems. Maverick will have his hands full with these two, the Boxley Beast probably can fend them off. There is an additional bull I have not named yet, I saw him for the first time today. He is also a satellite in the same south field.

These situations are very dynamic. Sometimes bulls move their harem a mile or more away overnight. The one unwavering fundamental to elk watching is to check the entire Boxley Valley end to end with each visit. The current great viewing in the field near Smith Creek can change overnight to nothing.

Remember these three things as well:

  •  Last year's great viewing location means very little. Year to year locations can change a lot.
  • Second, the elk observation pullout by the Lost Valley entrance is a terrible place to view elk, they are practically never there. It is a 1% likelihood location at best.
  • Elk and cattle do not mix. If you see cattle in a field, you probably will not see elk. They don't mix.

Things You Should Not Do

  • I have already observed trespassing on private property. Approaching elk to get closer only drives them back. You have no right to enter private land, if a park ranger comes by you will get a ticket.
  • Pay attention to traffic. Pull off as far as you can to avoid traffic. Keep out of the road.
  • Do not stop in a traffic lane and block traffic.
  • Focus on your driving, not the elk. You could kill someone. 

9/24/11 Elk Location Map, Boxley Valley

Friday, September 23, 2011

9/23/11 Elk Rut Report -- The Beast Has Moved

The field down by Smith Creek on the south end of Boxley Valley continues to be the number one spot for elk watching and photography.  Plenty of bugling and somewhat longer viewing hours in this nice patch of cool weather we are having. There were about 8 cars elk watching and taking pictures this morning.

The herd in the mid-valley area is pretty far back from the road. With the Ponca fields open, I feel certain this herd will be migrating north. I always counsel visitors to drive the length of the valley for this reason. It would not be uncommon for that herd to show up in the Ponca fields overnight. Or not. For example, the Boxley Beast moved his herd over a mile away overnight.

The change for today is that the Boxley Beast has moved his harem out of this field to a back field for the time being well out of viewing distance and on private land. He will be back. His herd's current location has relatively little forage.

We are now entering prime time for elk viewing. The rut is still picking up steam. This weekend should be great viewing, at least in the south end of Boxley Valley.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rain -- 9/22/11 Elk Herd Report -- Weekend Viewing Conditions Excellent

Our needed rains have not altered the elk herd location pattern. There are still a couple of herds not accounted for that no doubt are in back fields away from the valley. A few outstanding fields remain vacant that will be the eventual home of one of these herds.

The rut seems to be earlier overall this year. Many of the biggest bulls have arrived about a week early. I think it is significant that the Bubba Stud has been seen.

This weekend promises to continue outstanding elk viewing. So far this year, the south end remains the best place to see the elk herds during the rut. That big field has not been hayed, and it will not be grazed by cattle. There is at least one pond, and there is pooled water behind the field in the Buffalo River. Those are ideal conditions. The area is also probably safer for viewing than further up the valley -- there is less traffic based on my informal observations.

With all the infrastructure projects being discussed by the federal government, we should be pushing for creation of the elk viewing pullouts in the valley by the relevant authorities. These have been planned for years to no end. Nobody should have to die to get the state and federal authorities serious about creating these pullouts.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9/21/11 Elk Rut Report & Map

Things are in flux now in Boxley Valley. Cattle have been relocated so there will be a change in elk movements.

The south field between Smith Mountain Road and Smith Creek remains the best place to see elk. Yesterday the field held two herds, today it was one -- clearly the second herd had moved. The remaining herd is the Boxley Beast. There is still a lot of bugling in the south valley area.

I suspect that the moving herds will show up at the 43/21 intersection fields and/or the Ponca fields in the next couple of days (or sooner). North is the logical direction for movement under these conditions.

On the good news front I spoke with some people from Missouri who saw the Bubba Stud bull last evening. I have not seen him yet, but it is good to know he is around and participating in the rut. He has a distinctive large drop tine and a collar making him easy to ID. Perhaps he has taken over Hacksaw's herd as he did last year. I will share pictures as soon as I get them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

9/20/11 Elk Rut Report, 2 Week Summary, & Elk Location Map

We are now just two weeks into the 2011 Arkansas elk rut. Currently in Boxley Valley there are 4 herd bulls driving the action.

In the south end of the valley in the field roughly between Smith Mountain Road and Smith Creek we have two big bulls with herds. The premier bull is the Boxley Beast, last year's dominant bull, or at least the largest bull. He arrived just a week ago and took over a large herd from Maverick, a nice herd bull but not one of the huge bulls. Currently Maverick has claimed a part of his original herd and is at the opposite end of the field shared with the Beast. There are many satellite bulls around these two herds. I believe these two bulls will fight for control to make one herd out of two. My money is on the Beast.

Godzilla is on a back field somewhere. Haven't seen him for over a week. He is a player, but he has moved his herd to a back field.

In the mid valley area Hacksaw is moving his herd slowly north. Now that the fields near Ponca no longer have cattle in them, I expect him to move there. This is just an educated guess based on watching movements for years. I call the fields north of the entrance to Lost Valley the "Ponca Fields" because elk herds will move between them as though they are one. All of this hinges on the presence of cattle. If cattle, no elk.  It is just about that simple. They don't mix.

The fourth bull in the Ponca Fields is an irregular 7x5 I call Tiny Fork. At the end of his right antler is a fork that is nearly grown together. He is a nice sized bull, but I think he is a year or two away from herd bull status.

So this year's lineup of bulls so far is the Boxley Beast, Godzilla, Maverick, Hacksaw, and Tiny Fork. Based on past experience, I expect to see more big bulls arrive soon. We are missing some of last year's cast, notably the Boxley Stud and Bubba Stud. Both have drop tines, but Bubba Stud is collared. It will be interesting to see if they show up for the big dance. So far as I know, neither was taken in the elk hunt last year.

I will post an album of the 2011 bulls soon.

For now, if you want to see rutting bulls and hear bugling, head to the south end of Boxley Valley between Smith Creek and Smith Mountain Road. I still consider this area ripe for a bull fight. I believe the majority of cow elk are not estrous at this time. Give it another week.

Monday, September 19, 2011

9/19/11 Elk Locations

Elk viewing in Boxley Valley has settled into a pretty stable pattern. There are two large herds, the rest of the elk are mostly stragglers, mostly wandering single bulls, or small groups of bulls.

There is a third bull with a small herd that has popped up close to Ponca, but he has only a couple of cows. As the rut progresses this herd will be consolidated into a larger herd.

We are still not at the point where the majority of the cow elk are ready to breed. When that happens, the pace of action will increase, as will the frequency of bull fights. It is still early in the 2011 Arkansas elk rut.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Naming and IDing Bull Elk, Embracing the Natural

Boxley Beast --  Ear, Low Key,  Great Rack 
People often ask me how I can tell one bull elk from another. They do look more alike than different to the untrained eye. The standard "rap" on a mature elk is that they are all 6x6's and look alike.  To one who looks at a lot of elk, individual differences jump out, even across multiple years with slightly different antlers. Experts know where to look and what to look at. Most bulls have a few distinct traits that taken together make them easy to ID.

Here is my short list of what I look at:

  • Fighting Scars -- Many herd bulls have scars around their shoulders and sides from past fights. 
  • Body Shape -- Bulls are muscular, but some are real thick. Younger bulls are slim by comparison. Really big herd bulls have bellies. 
  • Antler Points -- Obviously point counts differ, usually elk bulls pick up points with age. 
  • Antler Span -- The distance between the right and left antlers in the middle, and at the tips. 
  • Palmate Antlers -- Old bulls have antlers that get wide and look moose-like with points along the "palms". Curly was an example of this trait. 
  • Antler Sweep & Curve -- Some antlers curve down, some are straight looking like ladders. With some, the tips curve together, and others are straight. 
  • Point Height -- Some bulls have short points, and some long. Some bulls will have a long point on only one side.
  • Combinations of long and short tines on the same rack. This can vary a lot from bull to bull. 
  • Drop Tines -- A handful of bulls have drop tines. Last year it was the Boxley Stud and Bubba Stud that had drop tines. Curly had drop eye guards. 
  • Eye Guards -- Some bulls have long eye guards, some short, some wide, some narrow, some with drop tips.
  • Radio Collars -- Some bulls look similar, but one will have a collar, and another will not. Bubba Stud had a collar, the Boxley Stud does not. 
  • Other Injuries -- The Boxley Beast's left ear tip flops down for example. Cotton Eye Jack had a bad eye.  
  • Bubba Stud -- Radio Collar, Drop Tine, Fierce Fighter 
  • Temperament -- Two examples come to mind. The Boxley Beast is a pretty low-keyed bull in contrast to the Bubba Stud that just rages during the rut. Elk do have personalities. 
Taken together, these many traits allow one to quickly close in on IDing a bull elk. Sometimes you have to look  more closely at an image from a shoot, but often you can ID the animal quickly. Some traits are relatively rare like drop tines, or the injured left ear of the Boxley Beast.

Curly -- Palmate Antlers &
Drop-tine Eye Guards
I missed seeing Curley last year, perhaps the oldest elk in the valley in recent years. I wonder if he simply died, or perhaps moved to a different area. I look for him still with his distinct palmate antlers and drop tine eye guards. I will probably never know what has happened to him, but that is a part of what makes elk viewing fascinating for me.

Naming and IDing the bull elk in Boxley Valley connects me with their lives and how they move through the seasons and across years. I observe the changing of the guard like this year when Maverick, an early rutting bull, lost out to the Boxley Beast in an early struggle for dominance. I would not see this with nameless animals, every one looking alike. IDing them allows me to track them, naming them helps me both explain them to others. These names seem to resonate with elk fans I meet in the valley who ask me about this bull or that. They seem to be connecting with the "elk experience" in a new way, perhaps seeing the stories for the first time. That is my hope.

One of the things I like most about doing this blog and my huge website is that it is my hope that they lead readers to a deeper love of nature. John Muir said it best in his Wilderness Essays, "“I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s loveliness.”  I am not a John Muir, but I do believe that moving closer to nature informs life, and if more of us will do so, we will not only be ecologically responsible, we will  improve the human prospect. 

9/18/11 Elk Rut Report

Good elk viewing this morning, outstanding at the south end near Smith Creek. The Boxley Beast continues to control the south herd, but he has many challengers. This morning there was a lot of bugling and we could hear one fight that took place in what seemed like the river bed. This south herd remains the most likely spot to see a bull fight. These fights are never common, but it is clear when the conditions are right for one as they are now.

Elk are scattered elsewhere across the valley. Mid-valley is a second good sized herd. There is a small herd that has entered the Ponca fields, something I predicted. It was not clear to me how large the Ponca herd is because it was partially in the woods along the river.

This remains good elk viewing weather. Any weather below 80 degree highs is pretty good. The overcast skies favor the elk viewing because elk dislike direct sunlight except in very cold weather.

Visitors wishing to hear elk bugle should go to the south end by Smith Creek. That herd bull, the Boxley Beast, is fending off many challengers and they are bugling often. These challengers are the key to frequent bugling, herd bulls elsewhere in the valley are bugling, but it is comparatively less common.

Elk Herd Positions in Boxley Valley 9/18/11

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Boxley Beast Returns, beats Maverick to Claim South End Herd

The Boxley Beast returned for the 2011 rut and took over Maverick's herd down by Smith Creek. The Beast is now an 8x7, with two extra small points on his right antler. Many satellite bulls, and some challengers behind his field migrating along the Buffalo River bed. The south end remains a prime location for a possible bull fight.

Hacksaw is mid-valley with a nice herd.

Both herds have been in pretty stable positions now for a relatively long time. For best viewing and photo ops go to the south end herd down by Smith Creek.

More solitary bulls are showing up as the early rut progresses. They can be seen here and there the length of Boxley Valley.

Updated 9/17/11 map below:

9/17/11 Elk Locations in Boxley Valley near Ponca, AR

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 16 Elk Rut Update

The September 16 elk rut map is below.  Not much changed overnight. There are more bulls arriving every day.

Maverick and his harem continue to be the best elk viewing in Boxley Valley. They continue to hang out in the area near Smith Creek at the south end. The only changes I see day to day are the arrival of some new satellite bulls.

Satellite bulls are generally smaller bulls that hang around the edges of a herd. The herd bull spends much of his time driving them off. Most often satellite bulls are not big enough to challenge the herd bull. I would say that Maverick's herd now has 5 or 6 satellite bulls.

Hacksaw continues to be in the middle valley area. This morning it appeared that his herd was heading south, but that is only my general impression.

Elsewhere there seem to be more solitary bulls. It is not uncommon to see one standing in a field along the valley. As the rut progresses these lone bulls can become quite unpredictable. I have had them jump in front of my car more than once. I still recommend driving no more than 45MPH to give yourself good braking distance.

The fields near the Ponca Access no longer have any cattle in them. I would expect an elk herd to show up there in a few days. Always check the whole valley for herds before choosing one for viewing or photography.                                                

Thursday, September 15, 2011

9/15/11 Elk Rut Update

Maverick and his harem offer the best elk viewing now. His herd remains in the south end of Boxley Valley down by Smith Creek. He has many satellite bulls around his herd, but none of them are significant challengers so far.

More cow elk are coming into estrous all the time. This weekend will be great for viewing.

Hacksaw and his harem are up toward the middle of the valley, but too far off for good viewing. Looks like they are heading south slowly.

For the time being, Gozilla has moved his harem to a back field. I am pretty sure he will pop up in a south end field within a few days.

Today's updated 9/15/11 map is below:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ozark Mountain Artists Studio Tour This Weekend -- Come Visit

I am on the Ozark Mountain Artists Studio Tour this weekend, September 16th to 18th from 10AM to 6PM each day. This tour features 25 artists at a number of locations in Newton County (my county). I will be showing my work and there will be things for sale, but there is no obligation to buy anything.

This is a great event. It meshes nicely with elk viewing, pretty much starting after the elk have bedded down, and finishing at 6PM, about the time to return to Boxley Valley.

I know there are many different people who follow my blog and websites that I have never met. Please stop by and visit. I look forward to meeting you and discussing photography and elk photography.

Visit the artist tour website, You will find a tour map there with directions to my home. This is a great event featuring artist studios nestled in Newton County. This is a fun event for the whole family. The tour is free.

9/14 Elk Herd Map & Herd Bull "Maverick"

Maverick and Cow near Smith Creek
This morning was cool and cloudy. The elk were still partially bedded down when I arrived about 7AM.

The two herds in the south end have separated. Looks to me like Godzilla led his harem out of there to a back field. As a result, there was much less bugling because there was no nearby threat.

I named the other big bull on the south end "Maverick". He is a great bull with outstanding symmetry and a unique pink lower lip. His eye guards are wide rather than tall (like Godzilla). He is a conventional 6x6 most ways, but he has a great span and a nice rack.

This will be great viewing weather through the weekend. This will be the first "heart of the rut" weekend, add to that ideal weather, and it should be quite a show.

Perfect Weather for Elk Viewing & Photos

Godzilla "Challenge Bugling" Maverick in South Valley Area
The latest weather forecast could not be better. For the next week, high temperatures will be in the 60's or at most 70's and rain is possible every day. Elk love rain, they also love overcast weather. This would be the weather I would order if it could be ordered. All day viewing is possible now.

Bull elk fights are likely now. The early part of the rut is when the dominance order is established for the first time in the rutting season. These first fights are more violent because there is no pecking order. I have seen fights during this period last nearly a half hour.

The point of this post is this. Not only is this a great time to see the elk, it is perhaps the best time to see bull fights. Bull fights will occur on and off through the rut, but more now. New bulls are arriving to the rut as well, they are looking for a harem. Often the very biggest bulls arrive around October 1. Often the first herd bulls do not survive the the shakeout after the big boys arrive.

"Maverick", Herd Bull in South Valley Area
Maverick and Godzilla will fight. Will anyone see it or get the picture? All the conditions are right. It will be a good fight, they are of comparable size and they have comparable sized harems. Maybe the real question is will they be able to keep their harems during this initial challenge period.

Plan your stay and get here. We are entering the sweet spot of the rut. This weather only makes viewing better.

If you need a place to stay visit for options. There are still a few cabins available -- fall is a busy time around here. Tent camping at Steel Creek or Kyles Landing (4WD recommended) is another choice. Private, affordable tent camping is available in downtown Ponca at Lost Valley Canoe at (870) 861-5522.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/13 Elk Herd Update -- Setup for Fight on South End

This morning two herds have moved close together setting the stage for a bullfight. Two pretty good herd bulls have good sized harems very close to one another (see map down by Smith Mountain Road).

One of the bulls is Godzilla, the second a big bull, as yet unnamed. These two squared off in front of me this morning but did not fight. Godzilla made the choice to move his harem rather than fight, but they remain very close together. I really thought there would be a fight.

The way to predict bull fights is to understand the proximity of big bulls with harems. Bull elk don't prefer to fight, but they have little choice if their herds are close together. Besides fighting, herd bulls will also space themselves apart as they establish their harems. What is different about this situation is that they are forced together by the geography of this location -- less than a half mile apart (as I write this).

Like a weatherman, I can say the percentages are great for a bull fight down there. It is also quite possible Godzilla will lead his harem away from the area. What will happen is anyone's guess.

The other bull of note, Hacksaw is in the field behind the Villines Store, the little stone building about a half mile south of the observation pullout. His harem seems safe at this point. At any time, a new herd bull could migrate to him for a challenge.

The hormones are flowing. There was bugling the entire length of the valley this morning. The bulls are on the move, some with harems, some seeking harems. This is the sweet spot of rut for bull fights. For the next couple of weeks bull elk will be determining the lineup of successful herd bulls.

If you hope to see or photograph a bull elk fight in Boxley Valley, the setup now at the south end is about as good as you will see. There are no guarantees, but this is definitely prime time, and on the south end, the percentages are great.

9/12 Update & Slight Map Edit

I made a couple of simple herd map edits to clarify the locations to out of town people. The addition of the elk observation pullout and Smith Mountain Road to clarify the locations a bit. I also changed the scale of Smith Creek's location in the south valley fields.

This map is not literal, the primary shortcut is that it compresses a portion of the middle valley area where 1) elk are seldom found, and 2) the fields are so far from the road that viewing is more or less impossible.

I made the text for the dates smaller.

Below is the current map for 9/12.  We are definitely entering the active period of the rut, moving past the first rut to the main event. The frequency of bull fights will increase now for the next two weeks, as will bugling. Elk remain concentrated in the south end of the valley.

Remember this fundamental. Elk and cattle do not mix. A good rule-of-thumb is that if a field has cattle, there will be no elk. If cattle are moved into a field, the elk will relocate. This is probably why there are no elk in the fields around Ponca at this time.

If you look at the dates, you will note that there are many single dates, and only a few multiple day ranges. My point is just because you saw elk in a field last year, the likelihood that they will be there next visit is pretty small. The exception would the fields at the intersection of HWY 43 and 21. There is a 330 acre food plot there designed to attract elk. Even at that, that field can be empty for long periods of time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Report, Some Elk Basics

Sunday AM was a continuation of magnificent weather. Godzilla and a challenger traded bugles in the early dawn, foreshadowing the struggles for dominance yet to come.

Fewer elk in the valley this morning. Perhaps they anticipate Monday and Tuesday's predicted highs in the upper 80's. Should that prediction hold, the elk will be gone from the fields by 8AM.

So where are we at in the 2011 rut? The very beginning. The rut is picking up steam and it will accelerate for at least a couple of weeks before leveling off for another month. Bottom line -- there are at least 6 weeks of top quality viewing ahead, with the prospects for witnessing bull fights in Boxley Valley. After that, there will be very good elk viewing until the end of the year. It is quite a show.

Elk Viewing Fundamentals (or Big Mistakes I See in Boxley Valley)
Last night I saw three major mistakes made by hopeful elk watchers in Boxley Valley:

  • Stopping where they saw elk last year. (I am not kidding.) Elk often move day to day, and year-to-year they often favor different fields. THE fundamental is to survey the entire valley from Ponca to the Upper Wilderness Trailhead before deciding where to stop.
  • Stopping at the elk observation pullout near Lost Valley (and waiting for the elk). The elk observation pullout is just about the worst place in the valley to see elk. I see them there maybe 1% of the time.
  • Stopping at the first elk visitors see before checking the valley. In some cases you might stop, if there is a bull fight going on, or a particularly huge bull was posing for you. Otherwise you should keep moving. The next field may have the elk viewing experience of a lifetime. Trust me on this. 
That's it for today. See the updated herd map below (updated 9/11):

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Elk Rut News 9/10/11, Has Hacksaw Arrived?

A nice crowd was in Boxley Valley looking at the elk. My rough count would be at least 20 elk fans, 10 vehicles, mixed roughly 40%/60% between viewers and photographers respectively. Most were enjoying the show at the south end. I recognize many of the faces as traditional elk fans from Arkansas and Missouri. Welcome elk fans to the big dance of 2011.

Is This "Hacksaw"? If so, this is his 5th year in front of my lens.
I believe the big bull I got crossing the river on the 6th to be Hacksaw. I need to review my photos from other years. Hacksaw has given me many photos dating back to 2007. It is fascinating watching the bulls across years. I will have a verdict in a couple of days. For now, he has disappeared in a back field with his harem after kicking off the 2011 rut. Last year Hacksaw could not stand up to the challenge of big bulls that arrived later.

Godzilla and Hacksaw are the first two big bulls of the 2011 season. I saw another this morning, but did not get the shot. Heading out this evening for another go at him. I am putting together a 2011 list of the biggest rutting bulls. I hope to have it published by the end of next week.

Saturday morning was perfect elk viewing weather and the elk did not disappoint. Godzilla put in an appearance with his harem down at the south end. This is the third day running he has been in that field.

The reliable 43/21 intersection fields were loaded up with bull elk. I saw a new bull this morning that looks like a big herd bull class bull in that area. Otherwise, there appear to be at least 5 bulls in the 5x5 and up class.

Mid valley at the back of the field is another herd with a nice bull. This herd hangs back far from the road on private property so getting decent shots except landscapes is unlikely. This herd will no doubt move soon to other fields as the forage is exhausted. There will be more to report then.

9/10/11 Map Update 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Updated Map, Godzilla Revisited, Driving Safety

This morning the elk have moved a bit. One of the herds that were south of the Lost Valley entrance moved north to the Ponca Access fields.

Near the 43/21 Intersection had fewer elk this morning. There are some nice big bulls there grazing heavily readying themselves for the rut.

Godzilla is in the biggest herd. It is in the field bounded on the south by Smith Creek. He was moving his cows out this morning at 9AM, shortly after the sun hit the field.

This weekend promises to be great elk viewing. Unseasonably cool weather will hold up according to the forecast. Rain is possible, but elk love rain.  If it rains, viewing could be extended.

I got a better picture of Godzilla, he is an 8x6. A couple of his points are small and a little tough to see. The rule of thumb is that if you can hang a ring on a point, it counts. He has a point behind one of his eye guards -- this is tough to see unless you are up close.

Remember to drive slowly through the valley. The picture to the right is of a couple of spike bulls jumping in front of a van that I felt certain would hit them.  The van was just out of the frame to the right and approached them at 60+ MPH.  That is nuts. This miss was real close. I recommend 45 MPH tops, and when you see elk grazing on the roadside, just creep past them. Elk will bolt in front of you unexpectedly. Elk are huge animals and an accident could kill them and you.

9/9/11 herd locations map:

Updated 9/9 AM
Copyright Michael Dougherty 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

GREAT Elk Viewing -- Introducing Named Bull "Godzilla"

Elk viewing this weekend should be very good. The weather forecast is about as good as it could with predicted highs in the upper 70's to low 80's. Equally important are the cool nights in the 50's. The slight chance of rain this weekend could provide some cloud cover keeping the sun off the fields for extended viewing.

Today there were 4 herds in the valley -- two were displaying rutting behavior. I only heard a couple of bugles this morning.

Today's big news is the first named bull of the year -- "Godzilla". He has been in the fields south of Cave Mountain Road. It is a little difficult to estimate his rack, it is irregular.

I believe he is either an 8x7 or a 8x6. In any case, he is the largest bull to show up so far this year.  I don't have a great picture of Godzilla yet to be sure about his point count. He definitely is one of the biggest bulls of recent years and he is larger than his current competition.

It will be interesting to see if he can stand up to the test of challenger bulls that will occur over the next few weeks.

Godzilla "running" a cow elk. This is rut behavior
Godzilla will be easy for everyone to ID. His irregular rack has unusual points at the ends of each side. There is some evidence of palmation in his antlers. He has an additional point behind one of his eye guards. Definitely a distinctive animal. There are other bulls in the his herd, but he is clearly the big guy.

Godzilla does not have the huge belly often seen on the final dominant bulls, but he is a very powerful bull elk and will be a capable battler. His body reminds me of the last year's Boxley Stud who ended up being one of the dominant bulls.

Below is the current herd location map. Today there were a lot of elk and my prediction is that this outstanding viewing will carry through to the weekend.

Current Elk Locations in Boxley Valley near Ponca, AR. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2011 Elk Rut Begins 9/6/11

This morning I observed elk rutting behavior for the first time. I followed a large bull a half mile that joined a small cow herd. This is the first time I have actually seen first contact. Upon joining the cow herd he began territorial bugling. There is no question this was rutting behavior.

Further down the valley another group of elk contained a large herd bull. It still had ribbons of velvet hanging off its antlers, but it did bugle a couple of times.

The bottom line is that the 2011 rut is now underway. Rutting activity will increase going forward as more cows and bulls enter the rut. This traditionally peaks around October 1.

We are now at the early beginning of the 2011 Elk Rut. Cool weather seems to have set everything in motion early. The best is still to come.

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Elk Location Maps on Arkansas Wildlife Photography

Effective today, I am publishing monthly elk location maps on These will list herd locations by date. The posted dates in red show the herd locations.

Bear in mind that while elk may be in a field or group of fields for a week or more, they can quite suddenly move. This map and these dates should help you locate elk more quickly, but I always recommend checking the whole valley with each visit.

This map is representational and not exact in scale. I have relied on major landmarks and roads as reference points.

I will add new dates as I visit the valley. This map should be very readable on mobile phones for those who choose to carry the information with them.

Today there were many more elk after an extended period of practically none. During the upcoming rut we can expect to see the Boxley Valley become more lively. The rut is now just two weeks off.

I intend to update this map every few days.

Photo Ideas When Elk Disappear

Visitors will find my guidance useful in locating elk most of the time, but there are no guarantees. Yesterday was a good example, on a cool, overcast day there were only a handful of elk in Boxley Valley.

Determination Pays Off
What to do? Photographers should have secondary targets in mind. Many of my best photos have been taken on days when there were no elk to be found.

A perfect example of a secondary target is the picture to the right. I remember my thought process that day. "You are a pro, and pros always get something" -- that was my conversation with myself. Seeing no elk, I did notice that the morning fog was nice and that I might get a decent landscape. I lined this picture up, and as soon as I focused, one of two preening trumpeters spread his wings in a characteristic morning stretch. I have sold this picture many times.

Cha Ching
Maybe the most dramatic example is on the left. I decided to try to get a good picture of a swan on a beaver dam at the mill pond. After getting the scene composed, a coon swam out to the damn and challenged the swan to cross. This picture surely was something given as well as made, but I would not have got it if I had quit. I rate this picture, and the 30 odd frames I shot with it, as perhaps the best wildlife photo shoot I have taken of any species. Luck for sure, but it was based on determination.

One of My Best Landscapes
A third example is a landscape (right). This one was after being skunked by elk as well. Again the inspiration was the wonderful ground fog of Boxley Valley. I shot this picture as a HDR photo and it turned out to be a commercial success. You will find it on the wall at the Ponca Elk Education Center as a 6'x9' 3 panel print.

My point is don't be upset if the elk vanish and you feel skunked. Keep your eyes open, be alert, and be determined to find some other subjects. When disappointed with one subject, you should be on the lookout for another opportunity. Stay positive, the next photo could be a "lifetime list" photo. Pros don't quit, they refocus.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Great Elk Viewing Weather Starts Sunday

Great elk viewing weather begins Sunday with projected high temperatures in the 70's, and high temperatures from the 70's to 80 and nightly lows in the 50's through next Friday, September 9th. After what seems like a lifetime of 90 degree weather, this is great news.

We are in another crossover period, this time crossing over from a very hot and dry summer to an early fall weather pattern. This has been a very tough year to be sure.

Looking for Love -- And Not Vehicles
Elk viewing should be outstanding but this is still not the rut, but it is pre-rut. Understand that elk don't like sunlight unless the weather is quite cool. If the forecast holds, we can expect extended viewing times this week, probably a couple of hours longer on each end of the day.

The story is still the unfolding 2011 Arkansas elk rut. If past year patterns hold, we will see the earliest rutting behavior in two weeks. One week later, about the third week in September, the rut will hit stride.

Elk Viewing Fundamentals
First, to locate elk, travel the entire length of the valley from the 74/43 intersection to the trailhead to the Upper Buffalo River Wilderness.  The traditional hot spots for elk are the first few fields on the north end of the valley, and the fields near the intersection of highways 43 and 21.

Do not stop at the elk viewing pullout near Lost Valley and wait to see elk, they are there 1% of the time at most. They aren't coming either. I have been told they don't like the grass that is there, but it is clear that pullout is not a favorite haunt for Boxley Valley elk.

There are two reasons to check all the fields. First, elk may be observed in all the fields one time or another. The often migrate for better forage -- traditional hot spots often go dead for days. Second, while there might be elk in one field, much better elk viewing may be just down the road. Survey the entire valley to assure you don't stop for ordinary elk viewing and miss out on great elk viewing just a bit further down the road. Stopping at the first elk is a standard rookie error.

Drive slowly 45 mph or slower. Braking improves dramatically at slow speeds. During the rut elk are nuts, especially bull elk. The heartbreak of testosterone overdrive translates to single-mindedness. Elk looking for love don't see much else. Elk on the roadside will bolt in front of you. Herds often cross roads. Boxley Valley has many blind curves and rises. Going 45 or so will only cost you 3 minutes the length of Boxley Valley.

Elk Crossing at 43/21 Intersection
Elk viewers seem absolutely unaware of what is going on around them. EXPECT elk watchers to open doors into traffic lanes, to step out suddenly from between cars, and to sit on the ground between cars, hidden from view. Expect kids to jump in front of you. Go slow and watch the road in these situations.

Respect private property. Don't climb fences, stay off private land (it is all private), and don't chase the elk. Nothing is more idiotic than chasing elk, they just run away and you get nothing. If you want a close-up picture of an elk you need a big lens. My standard rig includes a 100-400mm zoom.

Respect the elk. While Boxley Valley elk are used to human contact, they are still wild animals. Get close to an elk and you might just get stomped. Cow elk with calves are dangerous animals. Bull elk looking for love might think you are a competitor (yes, I have been false charged by bull elk). Every few years somebody gets stomped. Remember, natural selection applies to people as well as animals.

For elk viewing information and the location of the herds contact the Ponca Elk Education Center at 870-861-2432. I recommend visiting the facility as well. It is nationally recognized and arguably the best wildlife education center in the state of Arkansas. At the center you will find maps and information on elk and other wildlife. Kids will love the exhibits, free posters and paper antlers. The center is free of charge. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Bugle of 2011 Elk Rut in Arkansas

August 31 was the first elk bugle of the year. Oddly, this is the same date as last year.

I did see a huge bull yesterday and it was early. As I have written so many times, the really big bulls arrive at the elk rut around October 1 if one can generalize.

Right now there are at least two bulls in Boxley Valley hanging around with cow herds. Again, this is very early, but typical. These early bulls are large, but they are not the huge herd bulls. The two I have seen still have bits of velvet on their antlers.

We are now in the steady build up to the rut. It always feels like Christmas. In around two to three weeks the fireworks begin. Bugling will become common.

I am covering the elk rut probably 5 days out of  7 now. Look for news on this blog at least every couple of days. This is prime time in Boxley Valley.

Time to plan your visits. I recommend spacing them through the rut to get the best chances. You can find cabins at  The elk are located in the upper and middle river areas of the Buffalo National River.