Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
My first entry on elk watching was fairly complete, but I realized as I think about it, there are more tips that would be useful.
Before I list more tips, I want to re-emphasize that the best way to make sure that the good doesn't block out the best in elk viewing is to make very sure you drive from the Ponca access to the Boxley Church before deciding which location is the best for photography or viewing. The most common single error I see is stopping at the very first elk you see. The very next field could be much better. I have learned this the hard way.
Just about the most pathetic thing I observe is someone stopped to photograph or watch a single elk. If it is the very first elk you have ever seen, I do understand why you might do that. These solitary elk are usually sick animals. Elk get a brain disease that is similar to mad cow disease. The main symptom early on is self-isolation. The animals are befuddled, and usually they die in a few weeks.
Elk don't like cattle. If you see a field full of cattle, you will not see elk as a rule. This is pretty reliable. They just don't mix. One of the ways this can play out is that in a cross-fenced field, you will see cattle on one side of the fence, and elk on the other. The bottom line is this, if you see a field full of cattle, move on, there will be no elk.
When the valley is full of elk in the rut and cool season, often there are 4 or even 5 herds running around. During these times, I always check the field by Lost Valley for elk. They are not there very often, but when they are, you can get close and get great shots. This is a very scenic place. (See picture on the top right.)
If you are driving slowly, as you should, you will often see elk lurking along roadside tree lines. There are some nice pictures to be had, but you must drive slowly and be observant to catch them.
From time to time there will be elk crossings. There are two types, river crossings and road crossings. I always go to the Ponca low water bridge and check on my tour through the valley. My shots from one river crossing have paid for my camera.
Road crossings are also dramatic. The very most common road crossing place is by the speed limit sign just as you are coming south out of Ponca. The elk will migrate to an upper field there. This is real dangerous for car/elk accidents. The picture below is of animals interrupted in a crossing on that trail. I have already ranted about speeders elsewhere, but this one is a special kind of idiot. He or she could see the elk clearly and he didn't slow down.
Give crossing elk room or they won't cross. Give them about 75 yards at least. Pay attention, they will pool along the fence before they cross. If you are driving, for god's sake stop or slow down to a creep like 5mph. Don't be like the rocket scientist below who is "livin' on the edge".
More Advice on Elk Watching
Migration of elk preparing to cross at Ponca curve.
Rebel without a clue speeding to elk. Will he bag one? Will he die?
Elk crossing at the Ponca low water bridge, heading to Steel Creek
Elk herd pooled by fence near Ponca, waiting to cross, but blocked by gawkers who are too close to them.
Roadside bulls in tree line.
Elk herd pooled in field by Lost Valley Campground.