A dozen years of hunting elk in Arkansas have now passed. What is the assessment? What is the outlook for the future?
First, as with any hunting issue, a look has to be taken at the resource itself – the elk. Has hunting affected the overall numbers of elk in Arkansas, which means along the upper and middle Buffalo River?
There appears to be no negative impact of hunting on the elk numbers. In those dozen years of hunting, 1998 through 2009, well over 200 animals have been taken by hunters, and the estimated elk population count now is in the ball park of 500. When hunting started, the estimate was 450, so little has changed.
The elk hunts each year have been enormously popular, with many thousands of Arkansans submitting applications for hunt permits. These are free, so you could expect popularity on that point alone. From the 20 permits of the earlier years, the number has risen modestly to 27.
All along, the concept by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials has been to be conservative with hunting of the elk, to err on the low side if anything. And all along with the hunting, checks of the health of the elk have been conducted. No diseases have been found, including the dreaded chronic wasting disease (CWD), which has come forth in some other states with deer and elk but not in Arkansas.
Complaints of nuisance elk and damage to landowners have declined, but not disappeared, since the hunting started in 1998.
The public land permit hunts were accompanied by private land hunts, also with permits but in a difference format. Private land hunters have to have written permission of a landowner before getting a permit that costs $35.
An illustration of the hunting is in Elk Zone A, which is private land in parts of Boone, Newton and Carroll counties. This is where most of the damage complaints were. In the first years, quotas of five elk in Zone A were filled. Elk dwindled in this area, and the quota was trimmed to three. In the December 2009 hunt just concluded, no elk were taken in Zone A by hunters.
But the elk themselves have changed. Hunters and other observers say they are more wary now, having learned what gunshots are. Where they hang out has changed too.
In the first hunts, Elk Zone 1 was the most productive. This is the territory from Ponca downstream to Arkansas Highway 7 and including the Erbie area of Newton County. Lesser numbers of elk were taken by hunters in Zone 2 and Zone 3, then Zone 4 was created in Searcy County.
In recent hunts, zone 3 has been much ahead from the hunting success standpoint. This zone is primarily the Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area of the Game and Fish Commission. Much habitat work has been done on it in the form of wildlife openings, often called food plots. The elk have food to eat and plentiful forests give them cover.
Upstream, elk numbers in Boxley Valley have climbed. This area is closed to hunting. Elk numbers have declined in Zone 1 and in Zone 2. There has been some hunting success in Elk Zone B, private land to the west adjoining Boxley Valley.
A factor with the elk but not directly connected to hunting is the development of a viable tourist attraction.
People come from near and far just to look at the Arkansas elk, so much that there sometimes is a problem with viewers stopping on Arkansas Highway 43 in Boxley Valley to look at elk.
It’s a nice problem to have, many Arkansans say. Elk bring in visitors and also give hunters a challenging quarry.
(Log Cabin outdoor writer Joe Mosby can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com> .)