Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
Wildlife photography can be baffling. It is everyone's hope that we get to a spot where we can predict with some reliability where the animals will be, and what they will be doing, but it never seems to work out that way. Now that gasoline is courting $4 a gallon, this is a bigger issue to a small time operator like me.
Boxley Valley must be the most predictable place in Arkansas to see elk. I would not say the elk are tame, but they are more used to farmers and gawkers. During the cool times of year, they can be seen just about all day in the fields. At other times of the year, they will venture into the fields at the ends of the day, generally at daybreak for about two hours, and in the evening about two hours before dark. During peak activity periods, when I am really working the elk, this is my work day.
First time visitors to Boxley Valley go directly to the Elk Observation Pullout about a third of the way up the valley. There you will find a nice parking area, signs that explain the history of Arkansas elk, and NO ELK. Seeing elk in that little field is roughly the equivalent of seeing sasquatch. I have seen them running through there, but mostly it is full of cattle. Now I have seen tourists watching the cattle there for long periods of time. It must be sad to be so nature starved that watching cattle fills the void.
The very best way to make sure you don't miss great opportunities to see the elk is to drive the entire length of the Boxley Valley surveying the fields, before settling on a particular herd location. At peak periods, you might find 4 different herds in the valley, but only one will be the best viewing and photo opportunity. The same applies to bull fights during the rut. I guarantee that if you don't check out the whole valley first, you will miss out because sometimes the scene of a lifetime will be in the field next to the one you decided to park at. Trust me on this, I have the shirt.
Do your survey by driving the length of the valley from the Ponca low water bridge access point, to the Buffalo River Trailhead at the South end. Only then will you know what the day offers. I generally make this survey before there is enough light to take pictures. Keep moving and don't stop until you are ready to start shooting. If you stop before you intend to shoot, you may startle the animals and an opportunity will be lost. Believe me on this point.
Drive slowly, 40MPH is enough. You don't want to hit an elk. If the elk are pooled beside the road, they are getting ready to cross. Don't expect elk to be any more rational than whitetail deer. At 700 pounds they pack a lot of punch. Hitting a live animal is a terrible experience, going slow is much safer for the elk and you.
Don't expect the elk to move too much from day to day, but they might. If you are looking for bull fights, they can be anywhere and just about anytime during the rut, generally peaking in September and October. I have photographed elk fights in November and December, so you might be surprised.
Can you come up empty? Yup. Too often I have the feeling that the earth has just swallowed up all the elk. I mean honestly, how the hell do a hundred huge 6-800 pound animals disappear? It is baffling, but they are gone. And it isn't like you can't track them. An elk trail is a super highway, a plowed rut. Those big bodies and hooves are like rototillers. If you can't see an elk trail, it's white cane time. But where are the elk?
The Ponca Elk Education Center is an invaluable resource just a phone call away. They monitor the elk migrations in the valley. Definitely work visiting when you come see the elk. Mary Ann Hicks or Carol Villines will be glad to help. Call 870-861-2432. The Center is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Shameless Self-Promotion Department
My framed wildlife prints are on display and for sale at a number of locations:
Boardwalk Cafe/Arkansas House
Cliff House Inn
Point of View Restaurant
Lost Valley Canoe Store
Villines Store (Boxley Valley)
Uncommon Grounds Coffee Shop
Purchase prints, and other photo products including publication and digital usage of my images.
Notes to Entry:
Don't think elk are tame, they are wild animals and can flat tear you up. They are particularly aggressive during the rut, and when you get near cow elk with calves.
Just because you can see the elk doesn't mean you can jump fences and run all over private property. You will be ticketed by rangers and police. It's a waste of time anyway, the elk will just run away.
How long the elk will be out is a function of both time and temperature. Early and late are best, as is cool weather.
Photographers will want a long lens, preferably 400MM or more, although 200MM will work.
In the mornings you will shoot wide open, and at high ISOs. Expect fog, bring your tripod.
Drive slowly through the valley. You don't want to kill elk or deer that might jump in front of you.
If elk are pressing against a fence, they are getting ready to cross. Back away, park, and get ready for the show.
Try to park as far off the road as possible. Highway 43 is a major rural road, and some drivers really speed through the valley.
Locating Elk in Boxley Valley 101