Monday, September 30, 2013

While I Have Your Attention . . .

The rut will pretty much end in 2 months or so, but the show will not be over.  Those of us who have been shooting elk a few years will attest that photographing bull elk is very good through March as the picture below shows.  Thought I would let you know while I have your attention. 

Great Bull Elk Photography Lasts Through March 

9/30/13 Elk Herd Location Map

Conditions were better than yesterday, but the pickings are still pretty thin.  At least there was 1 herd visible down by the 43/21 intersection.  This is Little Tine and his harem of 6 or 8 cows.

Elsewhere in the valley elk were scattered. I saw one good sized maverick bull attempting to cross 43 near Ponca, no doubt on his way to the herd up the bluff in a back field. That herd may appear at any time and return to the Ponca fields.  This is a normal rotation.

In the south end there were stragglers around Beech Creek and the Buffalo River. I suspect there is a herd just south of the Buffalo, but they have been holed up for a few days.

9/30/13 Elk Herd Locations

Understanding the Cycles Elk Rut Season

The curve below represents the elk rut as a bell shaped curve basically reflecting the number of cow elk in heat.  The very peak of the curve is roughly in mid-October. This will vary a bit from year to year, but as you can see the best of the 2013 elk rut is just ahead and it will continue through November and even extends into the holidays.  The bull elk of course respond to this cycle.

Arkansas Elk Rut Bell Shaped Curve
Like all things natural, the timing of the breeding is spread out as a hedge against calamity. Some cow elk are bred in September, others as late as December, but in both cases they are uncommon.

The very biggest bulls show up when a lot of cow elk are in heat.  We are there now, and it will increase for a few weeks.  Cow elk return to estrous in 30 day cycles until they are successfully bred. The different sized calves you see in Boxley Valley reflect these cycles, with some born from 3rd estrous cycle.

This 3rd Cycle Calf Was Born in August 2010

2013 Color Fest & Fall Color Update

Fall color is finally starting.  Some species of trees turn first.  Dogwood trees are now showing some red, but they are far from peak. Yesterday driving around we saw some hickories that were turning.

If you are a fall color fan it is time to plan your visit. I would say the timing for peak color this year will be mid-October or so. Color change is never uniform. Fall color will vary according to location around here so we have a fairly long color season.

I like both early fall color in mid-transition green to full color, and late fall color when some leaves fall and tree trunks become visible adding "lines" to the colorful leaves.  My favorite shots are river landscapes with reflecting pools and rock.  Landscape photography is the perfect complement to elk photography when you visit.

Buffalo National River Landcape
Buffalo National River Landscape Near Ponca

You will want to visit the 2013 Color Fest in Ponca on October 18-19 put on by the Ponca Elk Education Center.  This is a great event with an art fair and demonstrations.  Peak fall color should coincide with the 2013 event. See the brochure below, click it to enlarge.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Taking Good Elk Bull Fight Pictures -- 7 Examples and Notes

I love to take bull fight pictures. The following pictures are samples from the many I have photographed with some ideas for you to think about when you photograph your first bull fight or even just vigorous sparring.

Remember that you will not see a lot of bull fights, you will see a lot of sparring and good sparring photos are worthwhile -- the same tips below apply. The photos below are from 2007 to 2012 -- 6 years.  I usually see 2 or 3 fights a year in dozens of visits to Boxley Valley.  I see sparring all the time extending as late as January, well after the rut.

The first tip in effective bull fight photography is that the you must anticipate the photo you want to get or you will never get it.  Your reflexes lag at least 1/2 second behind your decision to shoot a photo. You need to understand what movements precede the picture you want.

Spend some time looking at elk fight videos and you will understand the sequence of movements during a bull fight. In a real fight, bulls drive each other back, there is a lot of twisting, there are resets when they disengage and re-engage. All these key moments are better pictures than just straight ahead lock ups.

Bull Elk Fight
Note the Leg Drive and Body Strain
The picture above shows a bull driving on the left, and the bull on the right attempting to hold his ground. The neck twisting is pretty standard and I think more visually interesting than straight ahead in line shots.  (This was in the Ponca field.)

Bull Elk Fight
Just Before the Elk Reset -- Must Be Anticipated 
 This picture is a moment before the elk disengaged. The power and twisting of the elk is interesting visually. If I were a sculptor, this would be what I would go for. There is a lot of movement in this still photo. This happens many times in most fights, but it is very fast and you need to anticipate it. (This was in the Smith Creek field.)

Bull Elk Fight
The Moment of Truth, Look at the Eye Contact
 This is one of those "moments of truth" photos. Here the winning bull on the right has pinned down his opponent. They have great eye contact, and the bottom bull seems to be aware he is losing. This is one of my favorites because of the eyes.  Eyes matter a lot in fight photos.  (This was in the Ponca field.)

Bull Elk Fight
Twisting Bodies Make Interesting Photos
This picture shows a pleasing twist of the bodies as the two bull wrestle. Again this is only a moment and it has to be anticipated.  (This was in the Ponca field.)

Bull Elk Fight
Straight Ahead and OK, But Pretty Standard Pose
This picture is the Boxley Beast vs. Godzilla fight that my wife videoed so well.  This is a decent photo of two magnificent bulls, but it is not as visually interesting as all the photos above. (This was in the Smith Creek field.)

Bull Elk Fight
Loser Flees After Defeat
Ultimately there is a winner and a loser. Here you see the herd bull after a 25 minute fight finally drive off the challenger.  This was perhaps the best fight I have ever seen and this picture might be the best bull fight picture at the moment of truth.  Note the satellite bull n the background stealing the harem.  This is a rare shot. (This was in the 43/21 field.)

Bull Elk Fight
Before They Fight They Square Off
When a bull fight is setting up the two bulls often separate, paw the ground and tilt their antlers from side to side as though they were connected by magnets. This was taken just moments before they charged and began fighting in earnest.  (This was in the 21/43 field.)

These photos should get your thought process going. Spend some time with visualization. Make sure your camera is setup for high speed action.  I will shoot a high ISO (2000 or more) and try to be at least at F8 and 1/1000 of a second.  I don't use a tripod for fights because I miss too much.  Remember you will be very excited when you photograph an elk fight.  Do your preps, think about the issues, and pre-visualize to get the best results.  You won't have time to figure out details at the last minute.

Predicting Bull Elk Fights Lesson #3: Herd Proximity

Remember this, a herd bull class elk will never imagine he has enough cows in his harem.  This is fundamental. He can have 40 cows and he will think he needs 40 more, or whatever cows are available nearby. I have seen a bull with over 100 cows in his harem.

SO, if there are 2 herds near one another, in the same field, or in a field very nearby, the bulls will either 1) build distance between the herds, or 2) there will be a fight.  If they are in the same very large field, like the 3 big fields I identified in my last post, it is just a question of "when" and not "if" there will be a fight.  This is the very easiest fight to predict.

I consider this herd proximity idea common sense if you understand that the bulls will obtain as many cows as they can. Be on the lookout for this setup and pay close attention. If they stay close to one another a fight can happen any time.

Post Fight Herd Bulls in 2007 -- 43/21 Field

9/29/13 Elk Herd Location Map -- Rain Hurts Morning Viewing

Elk viewing this morning was surprisingly poor.  Rain seems to work one way or the other with elk and apparently last night there were some thunderstorms.  These storms push elk back in the woods a bit in most cases. My guess is that viewing will return to normal this evening or tomorrow morning.

The only visible elk this morning were down by Cave Mountain Road in the south end. They were gone by just after 8 am.

Elk Calf Behavior

Elk calves are often organized in nurseries by cows to share babysitting duties. It is very common to see a group of calves with a few cows looking after them. In the picture below you can see one of these groups.  The calf in the foreground was calling for his mother. 

Friday night this group of calves was in the second field south of the Ponca Access under a shade tree. For some reason the attending cows were gone and 6 or 7 of them were alone there except for 2 spike elk bulls. I got quite a few pictures of this group. I never saw cow elk abandon a nursery but they did in this case.  The calves were calling their cows who were nearby trapped up a trail, cutoff by tourists who were looking at them. 

At the 35 mph speed sign on Highway 43 just south of the Ponca Access, there is a major elk trail heading up to a private field  up the bluff.  People parked in that spot because there was no parking to be had, and they were blocking the return of elk to the field. I could see them looking up the bluff at the trail. I am certain the missing cows were there. I am equally certain that they would have returned to the field if the trail was not blocked. 

I do realize tourists not familiar with elk behavior might kind of mindlessly look up the trail and not connect the dots that those cows were attempting to rejoin the calves across the road. If they had got out of the way for just 10 minutes the cows would have returned to the field and rejoined their calves.  

We all need to respect the animals we view. Wildlife watching tourism requires sensitivity to avoid imposing on the animals. Wild animals need their space and they deserve it. If we impose too much animals they will move away from viewing to re-establish their comfort zone. It is important to get the balance right or there will be no animals to view. It is the right thing to do. Wild animals deserve respect. 

Calf elk calling for their cows

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Introducing 2013 Herd Bull "Little Tine"

This is 2013 herd bull "Little Tine".  He is easy to ID if you look at his left antler he appears to have a tine missing that would make him a 6x6.  There is a tiny tine there, you can see it in this picture. Not sure if it qualifies, but it does make him easy to ID.  

Little Tine put on the show just south of the mill pond this morning. He was quite close to the road, and finally waded into the spring in that field.  Photo conditions were tough, but it was possible to get some pretty good shots. It remains to be seen if he will make the final cut.  Like Pretty Boy, he seems not quite large enough.  He is a nice bull, even if atypical. 

9/28/13 Introducing "Pretty Boy", 6x6 Bull in the 2013 Elk Rut

This morning Pretty Box, a 6x6 bull elk put on a a pretty good show in the fields down by the Ponca Access. He has had better days, he started the day as a herd bull, and now I am pretty sure he has been relegated to a satellite bull.  He had been running cows for about 2 weeks. No matter, if the past is any indication, Pretty Boy will be one of the late season herd bulls.  I have been observing and filming Pretty Boy for 3 years or so.  He has great symmetry and is a handsome bull elk. 

One of the interesting things about the elk rut is that there are so many intertwined cycles.  In the early rut, smaller bulls run the herds until the big bulls arrive. Late in the rut, these same small bulls often return to herd bull standing after or late in the second estrous as the big bulls wander off.  Bulls like Pretty Boy are not quite big enough yet to compete with the big guys. 

The next couple of days will tell us Pretty Boy's status. I am pretty sure he is no longer a herd bull, but only time will tell. 

Pretty Boy Posing

Pretty Boy Attempting to Control His Harem

9/28/13 Elk Herd Location Map

Elk viewing conditions and locations remain about the same.  Things are dynamic now with herd bulls switching in the 3 main viewing areas.  This morning viewing was very good in the Ponca field.

This morning Pretty Boy lost his harem to a bull bugling from behind the cane line. My bet is that the new bull is Junk Yard Dog, the same bull who has robbed Pretty Boy now for 2 years.  JYD is a beautiful 7x7, check out the post I did on him. Photographers, you will want a good pic of JYD.

Rain is coming and with it some uncertainty about viewing.  The last forecast I saw said it was 80% chance this evening for rain and possibly thunderstorms.  Elk do love rain, they don't like thunderstorms. Depending on which way it goes viewing could be bad or good.

9/28/13 Elk Herd Locations

9/28/13 Elk Watchers View Pretty Boy and His Harem

These elk watchers had the rare treat of seeing one of the early herd bulls "Pretty Boy" and his harem near Highway 43.  Pretty boy is on the far right.  He was attempting to protect his harem from a bull just a quarter of a mile away. Ultimately he lost his harem, but avoided a fight.  It was very good up close viewing in any case.  Pretty Boy bugled a lot for the crowd. 

Elk Watching Along Highway 43 Near Ponca, AR
Elk Watchers Near Ponca on 9/28

Friday, September 27, 2013

Predicting Bull Elk Fights: Lesson #2 -- Location, Location, Location

Lesson #1 was about listening for sound clues about bull elk fights.  Lesson #2 is about using history as a guide to where fights occur in Boxley Valley.

I have been chasing elk and bull fights since late 2006, but really hit the ground in 2007.  Over the years my obsession with elk photography has led me to focus on bull elk fights, and elk crossing the Buffalo National River as subjects.

The map below shows the 3 main places I have observed bull fights over 5 years.  Fights do occur in other places, but these are the 3 top fields.  I am certain that habitat is the determining factor that has moved them to the top of the rankings.  Here are the factors:

1. Field Size   Each of these fields is very large.  Large fields setup the conditions where 2 separate herds 2 bulls might graze near one another.  This proximity sets the table for a battle to unite the herds.

2. Attack Points  These big fields offer many attack points for maverick bulls. Behind and around them are major elk trail complexes exploited by bull elk to mount their challenges.

3. Food & Water  Each of these fields has water in the fields as well as the river behind them.  They also offer exceptional grazing with less (or no) competition from cattle.  Cattle and elk don't mix.

4. Large Bedding Areas   Each of these fields has large bedding areas right behind them, including areas across the river.  These are attractive to herds, and to their bulls.

What all this means is that bull fights during the rut are about habitat territoriality as well as the battle for breeding rights. These 3 fields are ideal locations for the rut offering plenty of food, water and bedding areas while the work of the rut is being done.  Pay particular attention to these zones in Boxley Valley and your chances of seeing a bull elk fight improve dramatically.

Map Showing Best Bull Fight fields

Updated Boxley Valley Map Showing Best Bull Fight Fields

9/27/13 2013 Elk Rut Weekend Elk Watching Outlook -- Bull Fights Anytime

With every passing day we are heading into the peak rut period. Bugling is picking up, and this morning there was some counter-bugling, one of the indications that bull elk fights will become more common. I got a report of a bull fight this morning that was heard but not seen.  Also, someone saw a bull breed a cow.

Both Saturday and Sunday have 30-40% predictions of rain.  This is actually a good thing.  Those conditions could well cut down on the morning fog. It is also true that elk love rain. Rain will extend viewing times as well.

Bull fights anytime now.  They are never common, but now is the time when they happen most often.  Remember to check the entire Boxley Valley before settling on a place to watch elk. Often the first field is not the best, you won't know if you don't check all of them first.

If I had to pick a field where a bull fight might occur, it would be in the field nearest the Ponca Access in the north end.  There are a few bulls kicking around in that zone. This morning the current herd bull, Pretty Boy was nervous and checking the cane line.  He also counter-bugled a bit.  This is the one setup in Boxley Valley right now for a bull fight.  Any day now.  We have all the ingredients.  In my many years of chasing bull fights this is the #1 field.

Bull Elk Fight in 2008
Time to Rumble!   Ponca Field in 2008

Speed Kills

It is important to remind everyone that this time of year visitors to Boxley Valley should keep their speed down to 45 mph or below.

During the rut elk are not quite right. Hormones have a lot to do with it. They seem more agitated and more likely to run in front of a car.

This morning there was a close call. Elk were attempting to cross the road to get to their bedding area. They ran along a fence while being followed by elk watchers.  All of them jumped the fence quickly. An oncoming truck had to be flagged down to slow down or he surely would have nailed the bull trailing the harem.  See picture below:

Elk and Speeding Truck in Fog
Close Calls Ultimately Become Accidents -- Drive Carefully

In the fog, I don't like the odds of this kind of driving behavior.  There are people and kids around, and they are looking at elk, not traffic.  Drivers in Boxley Valley need to do their part to drive slowly and safely in the elk rut season.  A woman witnessed this and said to me "You know if I killed that elk or killed a person I would never get over it -- it would ruin my life". Exactly. Going slower costs 40 seconds a mile for 6 miles.  That is not too much to ask.

9/27/13 Elk Herd Locations

Elk herd locations are pretty stable, but more bulls are showing up every day.  The biggest herd is near the Ponca Access. That bull was skittish this morning and patrolling the cane line anticipating another bull.  There was a second herd down by 43/21 and a 3rd down by Cave Mountain Road.

Lots of elk watchers today including out of state people.  This year Estes Park was trashed by floods that have wiped out many roads.  Ponca and Boxley Valley are a great alternative to Estes Park and for many Estes Park fans much closer and lodging is very affordable here.  For information on lodging choices and prices, there is no better source than the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce site a

September 2013 Elk Herd Locations in Ponca, AR

Thursday, September 26, 2013

9/26/13 Elk Herd Location Map

The elk are moving around again as the rut revs up.  This is normal at this stage in the rut.  The big guys will be arriving any day.  Many new bulls have started showing up in the last few days. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Finding Bull Elk Fights -- Lesson #1: Listening

Locating and Predicting Bull Elk Fights Lesson #1:  Listening

Boxley Valley is a big place, but if you learn to listen for fights your chances improve for locating one.  I have located a few elk fights by listening -- it is one of the reasons I work alone most of the time. When I am working the rut, I concentrate pretty hard. I am watching elk movements, and I am listening. People will see me parked in front of an empty field with my windows down and imagine I am nuts.  Nope, I am working -- listening.  

The Sounds of Bull Fights (and Coming Fights)

The first and most obvious sound of a bull fight is the crashing of antlers.  If you are paying attention, you can hear two big bulls mixing it up at least a half mile away. The big fight my wife videoed started out of view in the river, and only then moved to the Smith Creek field.  Listen more, talk less.  Turn off your radio and pay attention. 

Note the charging challenger bull in the distance. He is coming to
fight, setup by a special type of counter-bugling explained below. 

The second and less obvious sound of a coming bull fight is bugling, a special type of bugling.  It is a special type of "counter-bugling", when bulls bugle back and forth to announce their territories. Regular counter bugling has a relaxed pace.  Pre-fight counter-bugling is quite different.

So how is it different?  Well, the frequency of counter-bugles becomes steadily faster.  What was relaxed and occasional becomes more frequent, AND, the tone changes, especially for the herd bull. The herd bull's bugle will become somewhat lower, and gravelly in tone, and I swear you can hear his rage.  His hormones are raging and he has blood in his eye.

You can hear the challenger bull coming even if he is not visible, he is getting closer and louder.  Scan the cane line because he is coming, and the herd bull knows it.  Suddenly you will see the challenger bull break out of the cane line and run to challenge the herd bull (as above in the distance, not the little one behind).

As they get closer together, bugling gets more frequent as both bulls jack up the emotion. I have seen them right beside one another bugling up a storm before they lock up.

This is pretty exciting stuff.  Hearing the build up to a real deal bull fight between two of the big dogs is really something.  The buildup to a fight is really exciting.

So this is Lesson #1.  Listen, and pay attention, always.  If you do, you can quickly locate an oncoming fight if you are fairly nearby. Understanding how counter-bugling works helps you evaluate watching one elk herd vs. another when you have choices.  If you make the wrong choice, you can ID a bull elk fight in a nearby field and get there.  Remember, your brain is the most important photo tool you have, keep it in gear.  Concentrate.

I Relocated to this Bull Fight By Listening a Half Mile Away

9/25/13 Elk Herd Location Map

2 herds in the valley this morning.  The viewing pattern is pretty stable on opposite ends of the valley. There are at least 2 additional herds hanging around.

The new herd bull "Little Fork" showed up in the south end by the Buffalo River.

New Herd Bull -- Little Fork

This bull showed up today for the first time, at least to my lens. I call him tiny fork. He has a tiny fork on his right antler and a kicker point on his right eye guard. His left eye appears to be slightly "lazy". Nice bull with a heavy body. Should be in the hunt for a harem this year.

Little Fork, New Herd Bull to 2013 Arkansas Elk Rut

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Are You Ready?? It is Time for the Big Guys to Battle.

Time to talk about bull fights.  The picture below was my first big fight in 2007.  A 25 minute battle that inspired me to write about this special place.  Too good to have all to myself, you know the rest.

I would like all of you to witness a bull fight, at least one. They are dramatic and unforgettable.  I have seen many now.  My next entry will be about how to recognize the conditions that lead to bull fights, and even how to recognize those conditions just by listening.

The video below was taken by my wife Mandy.

Stay tuned for tips to experience your first bull elk fight in person.

My First Bull Fight in 2007

9/24/13 Picture -- Bull Elk by Boxley Valley Barn

This 5x5 bull elk was grazing near the 43/21 intersection.  I like to use this barn as a prop for elk landscapes.  The light was challenging this morning and took my camera to the limits of its dynamic range -- glad I was shooting in RAW. 

Mixed crossing light like this morning's can selectively light up a bull's antlers as it does in this picture. 

This bull is actually a bit small and he will not be a final contender in the 2013 rut.  His antlers have a pleasing shape so he is a good subject.  I expect him to be one of the many satellite bulls when the first round of fights are completed.  He is a couple of years away from being a contender.

Bull Elk by Historic Barn in Boxley Valley
Get Up Early to Capture Light Like This

9/24/13 Elk Herd Location Map

Elk viewing remains very good with 3 herds in Boxley Valley from end to end.  See map below.  

New bulls are now arriving every day, signalling that we are steadily notching up in the rut.  There are also stragglers and maveric bulls here and there.  Things are very dynamic now and the pace of change is picking up. 

If you plan to visit, the next week or so is when the action really ramps up. I reviewed my records and bull fights are most common from now through the 2nd week of October.  Nobody can guarantee you will see a bull fight, but your percentages are the best during this period.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

9/23/13 Walking the Wild River

Sometimes you get what you get.  I like black and white and intend to devote a year to it.  I call this image "Along a Wild River Pool".  This is classic Hailstone (the uppermost Buffalo National River).

I like to stalk elk along the river even though I often come up empty.  Pooled water and rock are inspiring to me and not a bad fallback.  So this is what I got today.  A study in light, texture, and reflections.  A nice break from antlers and fur.

A Wild Pool on the Hailstone

9/23/13 Elk Herd Location Map

Today there were 4 herds spread across the valley. Unless you were pretty good at spotting elk you might not see the 4th in the Smith Creek field because of the tall grass.  There are at least 3 herd bulls in the valley.  Hooks has moved near the mill pond,  Pretty Boy has the biggest harem just north of the elk pullout, and JYD is in the Smith Creek field area.  The rut is still revving up, now is the time, and every day will increase the number of cow elk in heat.  Today seemed pretty sedate, but I am sure I saw a big bull migrating down to the valley.

As you can see, the biggest herd is near the pullout.  Expect attacks there from other bull elk who are only now arriving to the rut.  Typically the very biggest elk arrive around last week of the month, and the big dogs around October 1.  Of the current bull elk only JYD looks like he will survive the challenges yet to come.  This is very typical most years.

9/23/13 Elk Herd Location Map in Boxley Valley

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Introducing "Hooks", 2013 Rut Elk Herd Bull

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday we had pretty dense fog, today the light was perfect. I got many photos of Hooks so it is time to introduce him.  Along the way I will offer a few elk photography tips based on many years of experience.

2013 Bull Elk Boxley Valley, Arkansas
Hooks Through the Leaves
This picture was taken just up the road from many photographers who were shooting Hooks.  I shot him through foliage to get a natural frame of leaves. This breaks up a "field shot" and adds interest.  So far as I know, nobody else went for this composition.

Bull Elk during 2013 Rut near Ponca, AR
Hooks Running off a Spike Bull
I think good elk pictures tell the story of the elk rut. Herd bulls like Hooks spend the day running off bulls of all sizes.  This is one of the basic rutting behaviors. Note that this composition shows movement, shows the small bull reaction to the herd bull, and it places the small bull outside the 3rd line on the left.  These are all deliberate.  I try hard to get elk legs in motion, rather than standing like table legs in a field. This illustrates that pretty well.

Bull Elk Running in Field 2013 Elk Rut, Arkansas
Herd Bull "Hooks" in Motion

Here is another picture of Hooks in motion. Again the legs are key. Another feature of this is his head is lowered a bit. Running bull elk lower their heads and tilt their heads back to streamline their antlers.  When they run through brush, this is the only way they can avoid getting tangled up.  Note that in this composition, there is "negative space" in front of Hooks.  This an absolutely standard way of expressing movement.  Note his legs are in motion too.  If they were straight as table legs it would be much less effective.  When I do my post-shoot editing, I look for leg positions when deciding what pictures to keep.  This is a small thing that matters a lot.

9/22/13 Elk Herd Map -- First Reported Fight AM

Elk viewing was about as good as it gets this morning with 3 herds in Boxley Valley.  2 were down at the south end on opposite sides of the Buffalo River, fairly close together.  The 2 herd bulls, JYD and Hooks are likely to fight unless they space themselves some.  I would favor JYD in that fight, he is bigger and he is one of older herd bulls. Hooks is a relative newcomer as a herd bull, too small last year, not likely to survive the first round of fights, but we shall see.

There is a pretty large herd just north of the pullout.  There appeared to be 2 pretty good sized bulls with this one herd.  They spilled over into the pullout field.  Could be a fight there anytime as well.

First fight reported this morning at daybreak in the field just north of Smith Creek.  According to the observer, it was 2 5x5's hanging around JYD's harem.  Good news.

The big dance is beginning.  If you have traditionally gone to Estes Park, floods have wiped it out this year.  Time to try Arkansas.  We have arguably got the best elk viewing and photography in our multi-state region.  We are nearby and our lodging is cheap.  Visit for area information and places to stay.  Buffalo National River is the best kept secret in the US.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

9/21/13 Elk Return to Boxley Valley -- 4 Herds Today

Elk viewing covered the entire Boxley Valley this morning.  There were easily over 50 cars of wildlife watchers and photographers across the 4 locations in large print below.

The two best locations with the largest herds and bulls was just north of the Buffalo River in the south end of the valley, and just north of the elk pullout in the north end of the valley.

Remember the Ozark Mountain Artists Tour is this weekend. It complements the wildlife viewing. Go to for more information and a printable PDF map.

Friday, September 20, 2013

9/20/13 Elk Herd Location Map

After a couple of day absence, the elk started emerging again today after last night's rain storms.  Probably the best viewing location is down by Cave Mountain Road, but the situation is very dynamic.  This is a different herd bull.

Elk love rain and cool temperatures.  These conditions should extend viewing times a lot during the next few days. The rut is revving up now as more cow elk become estrous.

Remember the Ozark Mountain Artists Tour begins today and runs all weekend.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ozark Mountain Artist Tour This Weekend

Friday, Saturday and Sunday the 7th Annual Ozark Mountain Artist Tour will take place in Newton County. This is a perfect event to combine with your elk viewing. Hours are from 11AM - 6PM Friday and Sunday, and from 10AM to 6PM on Saturday.

Why not arrive early to Boxley Valley, watch the elk, then take the free artists tour, and return to the valley for evening elk viewing.  This free event perfectly complements elk viewing.

For more information  PDF printable map.  The map for the event is below (click map to enlarge):

Map for This Weekend's Ozark Mountain Artist's Tour

9/19/13 Roadside Trumpeter Swans at Sunrise

There is always a picture.  This morning the trumpeter swans were on the roadside.  I tried to run them off (slowly) but they were stubborn and just stared at me. 

This a caution as well. Remember that Boxley Valley is full of animals besides the elk.  Drive slowly. 

Trumpeter Swans at Boxley Valley Mill Pond
Trumpeter Swans on Roadside at Sunrise

9/19/13 No Visible Herds This Morning

Sadly, as I suspected there were no elk herds visible in Boxley Valley this morning.  There was the odd elk here and there, but clearly the elk headed for cover yesterday as it seemed.  That is the bad news.

Here is the good news.  After today we head into a cool weather pattern with 70 degree temps predicted for the weekend, with lows in one case of 48.  That will jump start the rut and it marks a return to close to seasonally normal temps.

Adding to the good news is the overdue mowing of Boxley Valley roadsides. Tall grass has blocked elk viewing in many cases, not to mention the chiggers.

My guess is that the weekend viewing will be good.  I will be checking and reporting tomorrow morning. Friday has predictions of thunderstorms that will clear out by Saturday.  Both Saturday and Sunday will have highs in the low 70's and lows in the upper 40's.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Boxley Stud in 2012, Will He Return?

Around the first of October the really big dogs arrive. Last year's monster bull was the Boxley Stud, a truly magnificent bull with a huge body.  When he arrived, he just took over and was with us for a very long time, both during the rut and in the post-rut period.

One of the great parts of the rut is never knowing for sure what big bull will finally show up. I think the "Stud" will be back with his characteristic huge down tine on his left antler.  The picture below is from the 2012 Rut.  Below it is my best picture of him from the post rut taken at sunrise in frost.

Boxley Stud Scanning for Threats 2012 Rut

The Boxley Stud Post-rut 2012

9/18/13 Heading for Cover

Sometimes you can predict the weather by the movement of the elk herds. Today might have been such a day.

I got down to Boxley Valley this morning just in time to see both valley herds travelling to the back fields (well out of viewing).  This could mean they are gone for just today or perhaps for a few days. Rain is predicted for Friday with an accumulation of .4 inches or so.

Anyway, I am not publishing a map today because it would be misleading.  Had I not got to Boxley Valley before 8AM, I would not have seen anything except stragglers.  For now at least, the two herd bulls and their harems are out of sight.

I will be checking again tomorrow AM.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

9/17/13 PM Update

Both herds in today's map have shifted south a bit.  

The Ponca herd was just north of the elk pullout tonight. 

The herd on the south end appeared to be heading to the field just north of Smith Creek. 

These movements are normal through the season.  Only tomorrow AM will tell us for sure, but my guess is these patterns will hold overnight.  Be prepared to look farther south for both herds. 

9/17/13 JYD and Harem by Cave Mountain Road

JYD working his harem.  Herd bulls get busier as the rut goes on.  JYD is often in motion now, but nothing like he will be when there are challenger bulls hanging around.  During the rut these big guys work themselves to exhaustion protecting their cows.  By the end of the run they have lost as much as 20% of their body weight and are just exhausted.

7x7 Herd Bull and Harem 2013 Elk Rut in Ponca, Arkansas
JYD Herd Bull & Harem  2013 Elk Rut in Arkansas

9/17/13 Cow Elk Crossing the Buffalo National River

Cow elk crossing the Buffalo River to their bedding area.

Cow Elk Heading for their Bedding Area

9/17/13 Elk Herd Location Map

This is today's elk herd location map. In spite of very hot fall weather, 2 nice herds were evident today.  The best viewing remains down by Cave Mountain Road on the south end.  JYD is there with his harem and he is pretty close to the road.  He is a 7x7 top tier bull.  This is a great opportunity to see him up close.

9/17/13 Picture of the Day -- JYD "Runs" His Harem

This is the great bull JYD, a great 7x7 that lately has been down by Cave Mountain Road.  This picture is of him mid-stride "running" his cows.  What he was doing was steering them to the trail to return to the daytime bedding areas.

This steering behavior is also used to protect and compact his harem if he perceives a threat.  In a couple of weeks when you see this, it could mean a bull fight is possible, especially if you hear another bull bugling and being answered by the herd bull.  Remember this pattern.

7x7 Bull Elk
Junk Yard Dog Running His Harem

Sunday, September 15, 2013

9/15/13 Elk Herd Locations -- Big Bull in South Valley Area

Elk are at the opposite ends of Boxley Valley now.   A small herd is near the Ponca Access, and a good sized herd is down by Cave Mountain Road at the south end.  The herd at the south end has a nice 7x7 bull.