Elk have been hunted in Arkansas for 15 years now on a limited permit basis. The hunts have been generally successful, and things are changing with necessity.
Some quick points:
Elk move around, and some places where they were in the early hunts are virtually empty of elk today.
Some people who win elk hunting permits are not aware of what elk hunting in Arkansas requires.
Not everyone likes having elk around.
And, it continues to be amazing how many Arkansans don’t know we have elk in our state.
Shortly after the first elk were brought in to the Buffalo River country from Colorado, the late Hilary Jones commented, "In 20 years, we’ll be hunting elk in Arkansas." Jones, who lived at Pruitt, was the commissioner with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission who led the re-introduction of elk to the state.
He missed his prediction by three years. The hunting started 17 years after the restoration work began. In the 2012 hunt a few days ago, the first elk was killed on Jones’ land, now in the hands of his family.
In the early 1980s, the elk brought in were turned loose on private land, sometimes just across the road from the Buffalo National River, which is administered by the National Park Service. The early elk were not put in Boxley Valley, today’s tourist or elk viewing area. And they were not released on the Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area of the AGFC.
Elk, like other wildlife, go where the food and the cover are.
Here in 2012, that means the largest numbers of them are in Boxley Valley, which has always been closed to elk hunting, and in the Richland Creek area, most of which has been added to Gene Rush WMA by a 2008 purchase. This area is formally the Richland Valley Sonny Varnell Conservation Area, recognizing former AGFC Commissioner Sonny Varnell of St. Paul who took a strong interest in the elk program.
Boxley is closed to hunting, but one field in Richland hosted a good number of elk when the recent hunt began. At the required hunter orientation, the permit winners were instructed by Wesley Wright, AGFC’s elk program coordinator, ""If you get to the place you want to hunt and another hunter is already there, just move to somewhere else."
A half dozen, maybe more, of the hunters did not heed Wright. They bunched up in a field of about 100 acres, and some killed elk. Others left unhappy, and one complained strongly in Facebook postings.
Another hunter in that crowded field, Joseph Snow of Gravette, said later in the day, "When I got there, hunters were stacked up like cordwood. I finally just laid down and took a two-hour nap. Things cleared out, and I shot this cow (elk)."
In the early hunts, the top area was Elk Zone 1, the area from the Ponca bridge downstream to Pruitt. A number of impressive bull elk were taken by hunters. Then the elk moved to the east, and Zones 1 and Zone 2 have become elk-less. This hunting season, both were closed, and all the public land hunting was in Compartments 3 and 4. "Compartment" has replaced "zone" in AGFC terminology to get away from possible confusion with deer, bear and turkey zones.
Hunting of elk on private land near the Buffalo River has reduced, not entirely eliminated, landowner complaints about unwanted elk. Some say the elk compete with cattle for grazing. Some complain of elk knocking down fences. And some landowners welcome the elk in and out of hunting seasons.
Of this year’s successful elk hunters, nearly every one had done advanced scouting, which is strongly suggested by the AGFC. Fading away is the number of permit winners who show up and expect all elk to be waiting within easy shooting range.
Tell your unaware acquaintance that, yes, we do have elk in Arkansas. Want to hunt them? Apply online during the month of May for a chance at winning a free permit.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org