Disclaimer: The elk in Peck Ranch are wild animals, do not leave your car, truck or SUV to go pet them or take selfies with them. Help keep wild animals wild
There is nothing like a drive through the Ozarks countryside in October. The leaves are on fire and the hillsides blaze with a thousand shades of orange, yellow, green and red. Winding roads, both asphalt and dirt lead you on toward even more breathtaking scenery around each curve. Though the weather was cooperating on the day we visited Peck Ranch just northeast of Winona, the elk were not.
In May of 2011, six bulls alongside 28 cows and calves were released into what was to become a successful conservation effort specifically geared toward reintroducing elk into Missouri after a 146 year absence. More elk were introduced to expand the herd in 2012 and 2013 and now Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties host an ever expanding elk population and tourist destination. So much so, that this year, a limited hunt was allowed through a lottery for a shot at 5 antlered elk.
This heavily forested part of Missouri has little industry beyond tourism, healthcare, schools and logging. Peck Ranch, along with other conservation areas; including the federally protected Current and Jacks Fork rivers, is helping bring more tourism to the area to the tune of 1.3 million. Taking a socially distanced, friendly drive also helps hundreds if not thousands of Ozarks residents thrive in these less populated counties. We had originally planned to overnight nearby in Van Buren which would have helped us get an earlier start into the park, but the best laid plans are occasionally foiled. If you are planning a trip to Peck Ranch I recommend trying one of the accommodations including Air BnB’s nearby to get a jump on the day.
October is mating season for elk and we were looking forward to the driving elk tour during the second week of the month. Alas, a small window of opportunity for a hunter to bag an elk from October 12th through the 16th foiled our plans and we had to wait for the weekend instead. Still, as I said, the weather was great and the drive beautiful. Experts recommend that early morning (the park officially opens at 4 a.m.) and sunset are the best times for observation of these huge animals. Of course, being late sleepers on the weekend, we got to Peck Ranch at noon. Combine hunters previously in the woods stalking game to fill the freezer and the noon high sun and you guessed it, not a single elk sighting.
Other tourists were traversing the gravel back trails of Peck Ranch as well, hoping to catch a glimpse of these relative newcomers to the Ozarks. We did see a few armadillos, deer and lots of turtles. I had no idea armadillos were active during the day and thought the one we did see was a fast moving turtle! Visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/peck-ranch-conservation-area before you start your drive especially to check and see if the park is open to driving tours due to this seasons hunting schedule. Checking out Google Maps for area restaurants would be my recommendation as we used this feature once we were back in civilization (or at least getting a small signal) to find Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Willow Springs. Great food and service, but that is another post!
All in all a great day trip and one I would happily recommend, though next time we will get an earlier start!
Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!