You may be surprised to know that elk are actually native to Arkansas! The Eastern Elk, a subspecies, once thrived in the forests and fields of northern Arkansas.
By the 1840s they had completely disappeared from the state due to over-hunting and habitat destruction and by the end of that century that particular species was completely extinct.
For over 140 years there were no elk in Arkansas.
However, today, the bugle of a male elk can once again be heard in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.
Are there Elk in Arkansas today?
Yes, there are elk in Arkansas! They were successfully reintroduced to the area in the early 1980’s.
They can be found near the Buffalo National River freely roaming through the tree covered craggy hills and grazing in the fields of northwest Arkansas.
You might be interested to know more about northwest Arkansas.
How Were Elk Returned to Arkansas?
In 1981, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began an Elk Restoration Project. From 1981 to 1985 over 100 Rocky Mountain Elk were brought from Colorado to the Buffalo National River area.
There was some concern about how this species of elk would manage the heat and humidity of Arkansas, but they have done exceptionally well.
In fact, the first elk baby was born in Arkansas in 1982!
Arkansas led the first modern elk restoration project in the Southeastern United State.
After seeing the success in Arkansas, other states have begun to reintroduce elk into their eco-systems. This includes: Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Why Were the Elk Reintroduced to Arkansas
There are a couple of reasons why the elk were reintroduced to Arkansas.
First of all, elk were once part of the fauna of the state. They were once as natural to the area as deer and squirrels are today.
You might be interested in knowing: There are also black bears in Arkansas. They were also a native animal that had mostly disappeared but have been reintroduced to The Natural State.
Reintroduction restores a native large herbivore to the ecosystem which in turn restores habitat for other plants and animals. In other words they were brought back to play an important role in the function of nature in Arkansas!
They were also reintroduced to play a part in recreation and tourism. Seeing the elk is a huge draw for tourists to Newton County and the Ozark Mountains.
Wildlife watching in general is a very popular pastime in Arkansas and elk viewing in particular is one of the things that visitors to the Buffalo River country look forward to doing.
How Many Elk are in Arkansas?
Today the herd is believed to number about 600 animals and perhaps even more. This numbers are monitored using helicopter counts, field observations, and aerial surveys with thermal infrared sensing equipment.
Most of the counts are done in the winter when the animals are less likely to be hiding in the shade of the trees.
To manage the elk population limited hunting has been allowed each fall since 1998. If you are a hunter you will definitely need to check with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to learn more about that.
What is the Range of the Elk Habitat?
The majority of the elk are found within or near the Buffalo National River in Newton and Searcy Counties.
However, they have also been seen in Boone, Carroll, Madison, and Marion Counties in the northwest portion of the natural state.
Obviously the elk have free range but there are efforts made to hold as many elk as possible on public lands in order to minimize problems with elk on private farms and private land.
Check out this report from the University of Arkansas for even more information!
Information About Elk Viewing
Here are some of the best places, seasons, and times to catch a glimpse of the elk!
Learn more about the delightful town of Jasper, Arkansas which is a perfect base from which to see the elk and explore the Ozark Mountains.
Best place to see the elk
The best and most popular place to view the Elk in Arkansas is in Boxley Valley. This is located in a 6 or 7 mile stretch along AR 43 and AR 21.
Watch the east side of the road in the fields along the tree line for the elk to appear. There are numerous places to pull over along the roadside to watch the elk but always be careful not to block the traffic.
Some other potential viewing spots are along Highway 123 around the Carver Bridge south of Hasty. Near the Erbie Campground, and along Hwy 65 between St. Joe and Marshall
We recently saw the elk at sunrise at Steel Creek Campground but were told that this is a fairly rare location. It was a glorious sight!
Best Season to see the elk
The very best time of year to watch the elk is in the fall. This is the rutting season when the animals tend to be more active and the males are showing off with their full set of antlers.
Fall is also the season when you may hear the males bugling and even sparring with other males. This season usually ends about mid-November.
Spring and winter also are good viewing seasons. The calves are often born in June so if you are lucky you might get a glimpse of some of the babies.
In the heat of the summer the elk tend to stay in the shade of the trees or near sources of water and are less likely to be out in the open fields.
Best time of day to see the elk
Dawn and dusk are the best times of day to see the elk in Arkansas. They gather to feed during these times.
You will see lots of people gathered along the roadside around sunset in Boxley Valley hoping to catch a glimpse of these magnificent animals.
These are huge animals and can have an unpredictable temperament. Never approach or attempt to feed elk. Use binoculars or a long camera lens in order to see them better.
I have been told that if your presence causes the elk to move away or change its behavior in any way…you are too close.
These are wild animals so be careful!
Ponca Nature Center
The Ponca Nature Center is another great place to visit to get the latest information about where to view the elk.
I highly suggest a stop here to learn more not only about elk, but also about other wildlife in the Ozark Mountains.
They have exhibits and interpretive programs and will also give you tips about recent elk sightings.
Address: Ponca Nature Center 4642 AR-43, Ponca, AR 72670
Phone number: 501-710-6347
Interesting Facts About Elk
- Elk are one of the largest deer species on the planet.
- Male elk are called bulls and female elk are called cows.
- Adult bulls weigh about 700 pounds.
- Adult cows weigh about 500 pounds.
- They are very fast! A bull elk can run up to 40mph.
- Elk can live up to 20 years.
- They have 4 toes on each foot but only walk on the middle two toes.
- Elk are social creatures who prefer to live in large groups known as herds.
- Bull elk grow antlers in the spring and shed them in late winter.
- The antlers can grow as much as an inch per day.
- A set of full grown antlers on a bull can weigh as much as 40 pounds.
- During the rutting season male elk make a loud noise called a bugle.
- The cows are said to prefer bulls with more points on their antlers
- A bull with six antler points on each side is called a Royal bull. One with 7 points on each side is called an Imperial bull and one with 8 points per side is called a Monarch.
- Most calves are born in May or June and weigh 25- 40 pounds.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning more about the elk in Arkansas. It is an amazing experience to see them in the wild.
Thanks for stopping by!