Two stories top today's news. First, the elk are back now in the cold weather setting up an excellent weekend for viewing. Second, the Boxley Beast apparently lost a fight in the last day and has been replaced as a herd bull (for now).
This morning there were three herds in the valley, one in the Ponca fields north of the observation pullout, a second in the mid-valley, and a third has returned to the field north of Smith Creek in the south end. There are stragglers elsewhere.
The south end herd has been dominated by the Boxley Beast up until today. This has been a nearly 7 week reign. He has been replaced by a fresh bull for now. I would rate this south field #1 again for elk viewing, and it is without a doubt the best for bugling. Lots of bugling down there this morning, little elsewhere in the valley.
It is quite possible that after the Beast licks his wounds, there will be another fight. The cumulative fatigue that dominant herd bulls experience during the rut leads to these changes in herd bulls. The question is whether this is permanent, or if when rested, the Beast will battle again. It is my feeling he will rest and attempt to take his herd back. I expect that fight over the next few days. My guess is that he will win his herd back when rested.
The weekend is setting up for great elk viewing. Cold temps are extending the viewing on both ends of the day. This morning two of the herds were still in the fields when I left the valley at 9:30. My advice is still to get to the valley at daybreak, and check the whole valley before settling on the viewing you prefer. My guess is that you will find the south end field most interesting, but elk are nothing if not unpredictable.