Elk were once common throughout North America, including Arkansas. Due to decreasing habitat, their numbers slowly dwindled. The species of elk that was native to Arkansas (Cerrus elaphus canadensis) disappeared in the 1840s.
In 1933, the U.S. Forest Service introduced Rocky Mountain elk (Cersus elaphus nelsoni) to Franklin County's Black Mountain Refuge. These guys were also gone by the 1950s.
In 1981, Arkansas Game and Fish decided to try again.
During the years between 1981 and 1985, 112 elk were released near Pruitt in Newton County, along the Buffalo National River.
Arkansas Elk Today
A thermal infrared sensing project initiated in 1994 provided precise information on elk numbers and distribution. In February and March 1994, 312 elk were counted in areas normally surveyed by helicopter which included public and adjacent private land along the upper and middle sections of the Buffalo River, some National Forest land and private land in portions of Boone and Carroll Counties.
Time of Day to See Elk
In general, elk are out in the fields at sunup and sundown. I've been told that during the summer, they normally retreat to the woods around 6:30 a.m. and come out around 5-6 p.m. During the cooler months, you may get to see them until 8 a.m. in the morning or 4 p.m. at night.
Times of Year to See Elk
Late September and early October are when elk are breeding (rut).
This is the favorite time for wildlife watchers, because the bulls are very active. Calves are born in May and June. The young babies are very hard to spot because the females keep them hidden. Male antlers fall off during February and March. During spring and summer, they're covered with a velvety coating.
They polish them for the rut in the winter.
Where to See Elk
The best place to see Elk is Boxley Valley, around the Buffalo national river. There's an excellent website with maps of Boxley Valley called Arkansas Wildlife Photography. He has great elk information and publishes updates almost weekly. You can also stop at the Ponca Elk Center on Arkansas Highway 43 in Newton County to get information.
There is an elk viewing area marked near the elk center, but nobody told the elk they need to be there. It is pretty rare to spot an elk in the viewing area. You're better off moving to other areas nearby.
Elk Viewing Tips
The land in Boxley Valley is not public. Be courteous and respectful of private property. Drive slowly (you need to anyway because the path is curved). Don't spend too much time in one place. There are often other elk down the road.
Elk are wild animals and can be dangerous, especially during rut (breeding season). Do not try to chase or restrain them. Do not try to pet them. These are wild animals.
An elk hunting program was established in 1998. Hunting is limited. During the 2014 Arkansas elk hunting season, hunters harvested 18 bulls and 34 antlerless elk.
Of those harvested elk, hunters took 22 on public lands and 30 on private lands.
Hunters are selected by a random draw for a limited number of permits valid for hunting elk in public land hunting zones (these zones do include some private land which is also open for elk hunting with landowner permission). Hunters qualifying for permits issued for a private land hunting zone (no public land within the zone) must have written landowner permission to qualify for an either-sex elk permit for these private land hunts. Arkansas Game and Fish has elk license information.
Things to Do in Jasper
The Elk are very close to the popular Lost Valley campsite and also to the Buffalo River. Many people visit elk while camping or floating.