The front page article reporting the human-cow elk encounter no doubt created much attention in the Payson area. As residents of the Rim Country observing wildlife can be almost an every day occurrence, but last week’s encounter is one for the “believe it or not stories.” Whether its elk, deer, javelinas, mountain lions or bears all will create situations where there are human encounters when they inhabit the same area.
The elk populations under the Rim in Units 22 and 23 are true success stories that date back to the mid 1970s when there were few resident elk. The lower elevation of 5,000 to 6,000 feet was primarily a wintering migratory haven for the animals on top of the Mogollon Rim when they would escape the heavy snows of winter and feed on the abundant mountain mahogany, cliff rose and oak brush. Some of these animals remained to expand the small existing resident herd and the population continued to grow. Even though elk are predominantly grazers, which means they forage on grasses, these animals quickly adapted to the existing vegetation, which was abundant on most of the southern exposure hillsides.
During the 1970s, the existing herd grew slowly, which allowed for minimal hunting by sport hunters where the Arizona Game and Fish Department allowed for 50 any elk tags in Unit 22. I drew a couple of these elk tags during these years and believe me, it was a tough hunt with the possibility of not even seeing an elk during seven days in the field. The herd has continued to grow and more tags were allotted each year with 1,155 elk hunters being in the field for the 2011 season in 22 North! The herd continued to expand and a few years ago 22 South was created for the purpose of a separate elk unit where there are also 125 elk tags for this year.
Sport hunting is a very natural method of keeping the herd in check. The Rim Country elk is only one success story where hunting dollars and volunteer labor have made a significant difference in the expansion of the herd. Most of the eastern states have accomplished similar results with the whitetail deer and wild turkey where there are more of these big-game animals than any other time in the history of our country.
There are predators that take their toll on the elk herd especially at this time of year with the new calves being born. Coyotes and even the neighborhood dogs allowed to run loose will quickly kill an elk calf. Another predator, the elusive mountain lion, which roams the Rim Country, may be the most efficient killing machine when it comes to bringing down a full-grown, mature elk.
Nevertheless, the North American Wapiti, more commonly known as an elk, is one of the far-reaching success stories when the casual visitor has the opportunity of observing wildlife or snapping a few photos on a visit to the Payson area. Folks will return to the Rim Country for a visit with a chance to see various species of wildlife. Remember, always keep a safe distance and if driving, stay in your car. Even though they appear to be docile, they are wild animals, so expect the unexpected.
Never approach a baby calf; they are not abandoned even if the cow is not in sight. The cow is close by or very likely has gone to water and will return. The maternal instinct could produce an aggressive behavior if something might come between her and her calf, so play it safe.
Our city limits elk herd attracts much attention, as these animals are seeking greener pastures and easy access to water during the summer months prior to the monsoon season. They travel in the reduced light of early morning or late afternoon to the golf courses and homes on the edge of Payson. In darkness, the elk are much more comfortable about traveling all over. The biggest bull elk I saw in Unit 22 was in front of the fire station at 4 a.m., browsing on a neighbor’s apple tree.
This weekend enjoy the Rim Country, God’s creation and celebrate Independence Day remembering all the freedoms we cherish that have been fought for so bravely over the past 235 years.