Elk By Keith

This elk found a pile of grass clippings to munch on after venturing across SR-260 near The Rim Club in Payson.

Late spring and early summer in the Rim Country means that the cow elk that were bred during the rut are now having calves. The rutting period for elk begins in early September and will continue throughout the month of October. Therefore, some calf elk have been on the ground more than six weeks while some are still being born. This appears to be a good year for the number of calves being born which is a direct correlation to the abundant moisture over the last eight months.

A calf elk in the first month or two of its life is extremely vulnerable to a variety of predators and other dangers. This is especially true in the first week of life when long wobbly legs of a calf try to keep up with the herd. A cow elk with a young calf will often find a secluded spot to spend most of the daylight hours in a bedding area.

A bedded calf elk will lay motionless for lengthy periods during a day trying to stay hidden from a variety of predators. At this time, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts can easily walk up on a newborn elk and not be aware that it is there. That is until it moves or tries to get to its feet and that sometimes is no easy matter depending on how old the calf is. If this happens to you, back off and give that calf plenty of room because its mom is not far away even if you don't see the cow. I experienced this a few years ago on an early morning wood cutting trip when firing up my chain saw startled a calf just ten yards away and likewise it caught me by surprise. I quickly turned the saw off and left the area, because I knew the cow was close by, even though I didn't see her.

A cow elk with a calf is very protective and will do its best to ward off a predator like a coyote by using its front hoofs and rearing up on its hind legs. This could also happen to an unsuspecting hiker who may wander upon a calf on any of the trails around Payson and the Rim Country. Remember, they are wild animals and they are very unpredictable.

Keep in mind, that calf elk is not alone in the woods; the mother cow elk is close by. Don't try to rescue a newborn calf by trying to find its mother or bringing it to the nearest Arizona Game and Fish officer. Wild animals need to stay in the wild and the young are best if left alone.

When driving the perimeter roads in the Payson area be extra aware in the reduced light periods of dawn and dusk. This is the time elk will be most active traveling to a food source or water. If you are driving and see a cow looking across the road chances are good that its offspring is on the other side ready to join its mother. Expect the unexpected, which may mean a quick charge by the calf to the cow elk or vice versa. I saw this play out about a week ago as the calf darted across the road 30 seconds after the cow had already crossed.

By the late summer these calves will do their best to stay with the herd traveling to a water or food source which dictates crossing numerous secondary roads or busy highways. It is important to drive defensively, free of cell phones or texting, and always be scanning the bar ditches where elk will feed on the new grasses.

The elk herd under the rim is one of the areas most valuable natural resources when it comes to drawing tourists, vacationers, and hunters in the fall. There is a sizable herd within a few miles of the city limits of Payson that frequently cross the roads at any time during the day. Just a couple of days ago on the 4th of July I was driving the Houston Mesa Road and saw where the night before a calf elk had been hit by a vehicle. My guess is that someone was driving too fast, not thinking about defensive driving after dark, which caused the vehicle-elk crash.

Payson and the Rim Country is a destination for those who want to see, photograph, or hunt the “King of the Forest”, the bull elk. The next generation of elk, and yes, trophy bulls are being born right now, so drive defensively from dusk to dawn. During the summer months if you hit an elk on the highway everyone losses. The Rim Country has abundant wildlife, which is a valuable natural resource to our area for everyone to enjoy in God's creation.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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