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. 

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