During the past couple of weeks, the shrill bugle of the many bull elk that are courting the available cows in the Rim Country has interrupted the quiet early morning hours. The early fall is the time of year when getting up at the crack of dawn will add some wildlife entertainment by listening to the competing bulls as they gather their harem of cow elk, which is part of the natural cycle of reproduction for these majestic animals.
Most of the subdivisions on the edge of Payson have these wandering elk herds that are now very vocal and create a distinctive western flavor to a morning cup of coffee while you are sitting on the deck watching the sunrise. This phenomena will only last a couple of more weeks before the bulls retreat to those desolate canyons and recover from the rutting period, so take advantage of this unique wildlife experience.
The elk are very nomadic when the herd bulls try to keep their harem in tact as satellite bulls try to steal away any wandering cows. It is common at this time of year to hear the clashing of horns as bulls fight to maintain their superiority over the herd. That is why numerous bulls have broken tines and maybe even a main beam shattered from these vicious fights in the woods. When they are preoccupied in a battle with another bull, it is relatively easy to walk up on the action and view one of these fights to the finish. A word of caution though, it is wise to keep a safe distance from the action just in case of the unexpected charge.
It is truly amazing to see the ground and surrounding vegetation shredded and scarred after a lengthy battle. When a couple of thousand-pound animals going head to head with their antlers acting as weapons against the other, they can certainly wreak havoc. In some cases, there can actually be a “fight to the fatal finish” where one animal will receive a deadly blow from the other bull.
The herds under the Rim have grown over the last generation to the point where it is common to see elk in the early mornings or late afternoons by driving the back roads and even some of the main highways going east or north out of Payson. If you see a cow elk, chances are very good a bull is close by and they may cross the road unexpectedly because they have other things on their mind. Consequently, it is very wise to slow down and drive defensively in the reduced light or after dark, because hitting an elk in a vehicle is a losing proposition for everyone involved, including the animal.
The increasing numbers of the local elk herds is a real success story and can in part be attributed to the Mogollon Sports Association, which is made up of hunters in the Payson area who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the betterment of wildlife. This organization is constantly improving pond catchments and placing guzzlers in strategic areas for all wildlife to have water when there are extremely dry conditions, which is often the case in the Arizona high country.
Whether you are a wildlife photographer or just enjoy seeing elk, make a point to thank a hunter or a member of the Mogollon Sports Association, for their contributions to the success story of the Rim Country elk herd. This weekend, take a friend and listen to the “King of the Woods” and enjoy God’s creation.