Lakeshore Elk Herds Make Impression Of A Lifetime

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Elk sighting is exciting even for seasoned hunters. When seen in herds totaling 500 or more it is the sight of a lifetime.

This past week I was heading to Flagstaff, enjoying a scenic drive through some of the finest forestland in the Southwest and noticed I did not see many elk near the highway fences. That is, until the road parallels Mormon Lake where I noticed in the distance, white spots on the rears of numerous animals.

I quickly pulled into one of the lookout areas that gives a panoramic view of all the land bordering the lake.

My spotting scope and binoculars accompany me on most of my short trips in Arizona, so I quickly set my tripod in place and began scanning the opposite shoreline. At a distance of about three-quarters of a mile, numerous herds of elk dotted the landscape the entire length of Mormon Lake. In the later afternoon with the sun getting low on the horizon more elk were showing as they were leaving their bedding areas.

A very conservative estimate of at least 500 animals were in this concentrated area with a fairly equal ratio of cows, calves and bulls. Apparently the new grass that is growing as the water level in the lake is receding is acting as a magnet to all of the local elk in units 6A and 5B.

This was truly a magnificent scene that would seem more likely to be at Jackson Hole or Yellowstone Park in the state of Wyoming instead of just 75 miles from Payson!

Being an avid hunter, I began examining the racks on many of the larger bulls and came to the conclusion at least 30 were in the 300-inch category with a handful being in the 350-plus range and larger. What an opportunity to study the size of an elk rack for the purpose of making better decisions when in the field with that elk tag in your pocket.

If this is your desire, then I would encourage you to make a short trip to Mormon Lake and take a knowledgeable friend who can help you judge the size of the many six-point bulls that are roaming the shoreline. I don’t know how much longer this congregation of elk will last, but they are at Mormon Lake now.

This is one of those perfect spots to show vacationing friends and relatives from eastern states an Arizona wildlife success story.

I have seen hundreds of elk over the years in Arizona, but that view overlooking the lake made a lifetime impression on this seasoned veteran.

If you go, make sure you have a good set of binoculars or a spotting scope, take a friend and enjoy the Arizona outdoors, God’s creation.

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