For the past several years, one of my favorite things to do is visit Peck Ranch Conservation Area to photograph the elk herd. October and November are the perfect time of year for elk viewing. The males, known as bulls, sport fresh antlers and strut around proudly with their heads held high and chests puffed out. Younger males constantly scuffle, locking antlers and pushing each other to establish dominance. The females, known as cows, are still very protective of their calves, but not nearly as skittish as other seasons of the year. A few alpha males keep their groups of females, known as harems, close by and snort or charge at the younger males if they try to approach.
It never ceases to amaze me how these massive animals can move so quickly and quietly, emerging out of the woods and settling over food plots at sunrise as subtly as the morning mist. Their behavior is quite different from that of Missouri’s more familiar white-tailed deer. While deer seem to be skittish, elk have a more assured demeanor. I can stop my vehicle to change a lens or fiddle with a tripod only to look up and see a hundred elk in what was an empty field just a minute before. When they tire of my presence, they gently slip away and move to nearby wooded ridgelines with a swiftness that is impressive.
Elk were extirpated from Missouri many decades ago. The Department, in partnership with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International, Missouri
Conservation Heritage Foundation, Kentucky Game and Fish, and others, began to reintroduce elk in Missouri in 2011.
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with the Department’s elk researchers, documenting various projects and milestones as we learn more about the Missouri herd. Although I could go out with the researchers to find the elk with radio tracking collars, I get my best photos from the elk driving tour that is open to the public.
The elk are right along the main roads, milling around the big food plots. The edges of day are the best chance to see the herd, as they typically come out at sunset and return to the woods shortly after sunrise.
When this photo was taken, I was stopped for nearly 30 minutes on the main thoroughfare as the whole herd blocked the road while grazing 50 feet from my vehicle. Best traffic jam ever.
If you decide to take a trip this fall to Peck Ranch, here are some elk-viewing tips:
—Story and photograph by David Stonner
We help people discover nature through our online field guide. Visit on.mo.gov/1M3cWgI to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.
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Photographer - David Stonner
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