Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
The medium sized bulls are down in the valley and there has been a herd for the last few days just north of the Boxley Mill Pond in the mornings. These are not the biggest animals and none are likely to control a herd of cows, they just aren't big enough. I have only seen one bull in the valley so far that was ready for "prime time" in the rut, and I think he is still not quite there. The real big boys are staying away.

Last year I saw one of the young bulls lose his herd of about 30 cows by just herding them past one of the big bulls. His herd was migrating to the north in the second to the last field before the Buffalo River. He made the mistake of leading them past a much smaller herd, about 10, led by one of the big dogs. Once he realized his mistake, it was over. The big bull asserted himself with his call and just took his cows. I will never forget the helplessness of the smaller bull. He was totally out of luck. There was not even a fight, just what I call a "walk off". Final score 6x6 bull 40, 5x5 bull 0. 

Walk Offs
Stage one of a bull fight is generally the two bulls sizing each other up. They walk or run along beside each other. In these big bull, small bull skirmishes, if one is seriously outgunned by size and antlers, there is seldom a stage two. The big guy will just displace the smaller bull. That is what happened. I guess this is nature's way of protecting the species. It's not all the blood and guts that people imagine. A lot of that naked aggression and fight to the death is just human projection. Dominance is asserted by "shows" as well as fights.

The picture to the right is of a bull that has started rubbing off his velvet, or, he has lost some in some sparring. It doesn't matter which, it is a sign that the unfolding of the rut is proceeding.

I observed the bulls starting to show sparring behavior. It is just the earliest evidence, not full fledged sparring. Sometimes when a couple of them are accidentally facing, they drop their heads and move toward one another, and just kind of tap a little. No pushing, just gestures mostly. This is one of the things that fascinates me about nature, there are no bright lines, usually change is quite gradual and the buildup to the rut is like that. You see the instinct to fight begin to emerge.

I haven't heard any bugling yet. Hearing the elk bugle is magical and worthwhile if you never get a picture. I remember holding Mandy as we stood under the stars near the last gate down by the Ponca low water bridge. As dusk gave way to darkness, we could hear the bulls moving up the Buffalo River bugling at one another. That experience was one reason we moved here, one among many. This is a slice of paradise.
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Note the peeling velvet on the antlers. This picture is a crop and full sized. This is a 5x6 bull and still a bit small to dominate, but he might compete. I doubt he can hold on to a herd after big bulls arrive.
The Unfolding Elk Rut