In less than 30 years, elk have become a staple in Arkansas, a major tourist attraction and a high-profile hunting activity.
Not everything is satisfactory with these relative newcomers in the Arkansas outdoor world, and not every Arkansan in enraptured with them.
Some regard the elk as nuisances, and this doesn’t take into account the sizable percentage of Arkansas residents who say they do not know the state has elk.
Nuisances? These big and beautiful wild creatures? These majestic animals with their distinctive call in the breeding season, the “bugling?”
Yep, elk can be headaches for cattle ranchers in spots like Boxley Valley in western Newton County. The conflict is simple. Elk eat grass, the same grass that is used for forage and for hay for cattle.
Introduced back into Arkansas beginning in 1981 after an absence of well over a century, the elk live in the Buffalo River country of northern Arkansas.
Just 27 years after the first elk were relocated form Colorado to Arkansas, limited hunting of them began and has become a tradition in a few short years. Thousands of people apply for free elk permits each year, with only a couple of dozen issued through a public drawing on the courthouse square in Jasper.
The hunts are in two segments — five days in late September with four hunters, five days in early December with 23 hunters in recent years.
In this year’s September hunt, after days of careful preparation, Danny Tilley’s elk hunt lasted 30 minutes.
Tilley, who lives at Bigelow in Perry County, was one of four hunters with bull elk permits for the September 2010 season, the 13th for Arkansas since hunting started in 1998. Tilley was on his first Arkansas elk hunt but had previous experience with the big and challenging animals in western states.
“I came up and did a good bit of scouting, about six days in all, before the season,” Tilley said. His assigned hunting area was Elk Zone 4, which is public land in western Searcy County.
“The fog was heavy this (Monday) morning, and we had to wait,” Tilley recalled. “Then we saw three cow elk then a 4x4 bull (meaning four points on each side of its antlers). We waited some more, and I heard a scraping noise. Finally I found this 5x5 bull, a pretty nice one, rubbing its antlers on a tree on the edge of a field.
“When he turned broadside, I shot. He was about 100 yards away. He didn’t go down, so I shot a second time. He ran about 50 yards and dropped.”
Tilley was hunting in an area locally known as the Margaret White field. It is in a loop of the Buffalo River several miles west or upstream from the Tyler Bend Recreation Area of the Buffalo National River. He used a .300-caliber Magnum bolt action rifle with a telescopic sight.
Tilley’s helper on the hunt was his father, Buddy Tilley.
“We got the elk field dressed then several people from Game and Fish came in to help us load it,” Danny Tiller said.
One of the other September hunt permit winners could not participate in the hunt because of a death in his family.
Weather that was too hot bothered the three hunters. Dry conditions didn’t help either. The breeding season, called the rut, when the bugling of male elk sounds along the Buffalo River, starts in late September and runs through October into November.
Dominant male elk gather groups of cow or female elk then attempt to fend off other challenging males. Antler-clashing skirmishes often break out.
This activity is a highlight for many visitors from Arkansas and from other states who come to the Buffalo River country just to see and hear the elk. The visitors bring cameras, video and still. They bring families and friends and sometimes make elk viewing annual outings.
Of course, these visitors bring money and use it in the Arkansas elk country for food, for lodging, for gasoline and for keepsakes and souvenirs.
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 email@example.com.