Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11/8/11 Late Season Elk Viewing -- Frequently Asked Questions

A Back Cover of Arkansas Wildlife Mag
Taken on March 21 near Ponca
Rough storms are keeping me out of Boxley Valley today. Elk like this weather, but I don't, especially with my camera in tow. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk about late fall and winter elk viewing.

It is time to look at where we are at in the 2011 Arkansas Elk Rut.  The diagram below says it all. This does pretty much come down to a bell shaped curve like so many other things. I would place the peak of the rut at around the second or third week in October. The rut heads slowly downhill after that.

Yes, this is an oversimplification. For example, some of the best bull fight action happens early on. The big guys are establishing their pecking order. After that, there is more breeding and roughly it peaks as shown below. There will be early rutting herds, and late rutting herds. Nothing in nature is that tidy. Still the point of this post is to help my readers get clear on elk viewing opportunities and how the post rut period unfolds. Great elk viewing and photography is far from over.

Frequently Asked Questions About Late Season Elk Viewing:

Q: Is the rut still going on?
A: You bet it is. It will continue until the cows are all successfully bred. The curve is really about breeding. Mating has been observed in early September and in January, but that is very rare.

Q: Is it still possible to see a real bull fight? Yes, but it is less likely than earlier in the rut. I photographed real bull fight November 9th one year. I have heard and seen them later. Sparring continues until around April 1.

Q: How much longer can I view elk in Boxley Valley?
A: Actually elk viewing is good now, and it will improve as the weather gets cooler. Elk like cold weather, and they will often stay out in fields all day long in late fall and winter, but mornings and evenings are your best bet.

Q: The curve shows the rut slowing down and then ending in December, but you say elk viewing is good all winter. What's up with that?
A: Elk viewing is not the same as viewing the elk rut.  There will still be about the same number of elk to see, it will just be different. You may see a herd of huge bull elk for example.

Q: How is elk viewing different after the rut?
A: There are plenty of elk to see, but things change. As the rut tails off, the elk herds slowly split up by sex. Cow elk and their calves form cow-only herds. Bull elk and their peers form bull-only herds. This is a gradual transition and it is pretty much complete by mid-December.

Q: What about elk watching and photography after the rut?
A: Many of my best photos are from this post-rut period, including cover shots and even the state elk brochure. Why?  Big bull herds offer exceptional viewing and photo opportunities. Elk slow down some and seem less skittish.  I took the cover photo for the state elk brochure December 6.

Q: What about bugling?
A: It tapers off with the slow decline of the rut. I have photographed bugling in December, but clearly it slowly declines.

Q: Anything else?
A: Post rut you may have the place to yourself. Crowds of viewers are smaller, ironically when the viewing is better in many ways.

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