If all you're interested in is seeing an elk, that's pretty easy. Fall, winter and early spring just drive to Ponca and check the river bottom fields from bridge to bridge - Ponca to Boxley. Best times are early in the day and late in the evening through the warmer days. In cold weather, elk may be out in the fields most of the day.

However, if you want to add a little challenge to the adventure and do some elk "hunting", there are fun ways to spend the whole day at it. Up and down the river there are a lot of likely elk spots and exploring them on foot gives you a hike through the woods and lots of other things to look at as well.

Try the North River Road for some of those spots. You turn left on the north side of the Pruitt bridge and wind towards Erbie. The road is narrow and rough but passable, just go slow and be cautious.

Watch for what we call the Shaddox place. The road makes a sharp right turn, goes a few yards, then turns sharply left again. It just looks like you're going around a house and yard fence, and they were there at one time. If you stop there and walk down towards the river, you'll find easy walking down a gentle slope through old fields and an orchard. Go quietly and keep your eyes open. Elk are likely to be somewhere between the road and the river.

If you're used to the Ponca elk, which have become so accustomed to people they hardly look at them, be reminded that elk are a little more skittish here. Stop when you spot them. If you are still and non-threatening, they're likely to pay little attention to you. If you appear to be a reason for alarm, however, they can be out of sight as fast as you can blink.

Watch the elk's head and ears. Pay attention to what they're looking at and listening to and you can tell how they regard you. If their ears are up and they're staring in your direction, they've spotted you and are concerned. If you hold still until their body signals indicate they have not sensed danger, you probably can move even closer. Many times they will return to grazing and only check occasionally to see where you are. If good photos are your goal, a little patience will pay off.

As you get nearer to Erbie on the North River Road, you will see some places where you can walk down towards the river through old farm fields. These are often good places to look for elk. Watch for signs - trails, tracks and droppings - to tell you whether the elk have been using the areas. You may also find bedding areas, numerous big round areas of flattened grass, usually along tree line. These are places where the elk have been sleeping and you'll probably find some there in the late afternoon hours.

Just before the road comes back downhill to the Erbie ford, there's a huge field with a big wooden gate at the entrance and a sign that says it's an agricultural area. It's what you'll hear local folks call the "charcoal fields" and has been a key area for the annual elk gun seasons. The elk are here a lot, if undisturbed.

These fields are right across the river from another, more wooded, key hunting area and you can get to it from the road that goes to the Erbie Campgrounds. On the hill above the campgrounds, where the main road turns parallel to the river bluffs, an old road takes off straight north towards the river. This one is pretty much impassable because of the condition of the first hill, but its really lovely walking. While you can't miss the old fields on the right side of the road, you'll have to look a little closer for the food plot openings on the left. When you reach the fields, go on up to the top of the hill and take off through the woods on the left. You should come out in a string of small openings that have been burned off and re-seeded. Lots of critters from songbirds and bunny rabbits to elk love these food plots.

When you reach the Parker-Hickman Homestead past the Erbie campgrounds, there are two spots to check. One is an easy, level walk across the river and down past the barn on the old Claggett place towards the spot on the river we've always called "Jasper in June", a name left behind by former out of state owners who spent summers there. This field often has elk, especially below the fringe of trees that stands almost down to the river end. The other is up over the hill on the road to Cherry Grove Cemetery. This one is more or less drivable, but more fun to walk. It's easy going despite a relatively steep hill going out and the bonus at the end is a nice view down on a big bend in the river. Don't give up on elk until you've explored thoroughly. One day we had pretty well decided there wasn't an elk anywhere around and sat down for a breather and a snack. We were looking straight down through trees on the river and a big cow elk came up to drink right below us.

There are a number of other potential elk spots on the river all the way from Ponca to Woolum. Just follow the river bluffs and pick any likely looking walking spot. There are lots of old fields where elk like to graze. Some of them are east of the bridge at Pruitt, both sides of the bridge at Carver, and on the Gene Rush Buffalo River Management Area, where extensive elk habitat improvement work has been done. Look for the food plots. I recommend turning east at Carver and circling halfway around the hill before taking off on one of the old roads and trails you will easily find.If all you're interested in is seeing an elk, that's pretty easy. Fall, winter and early spring just drive to Ponca and check the river bottom fields from bridge to bridge - Ponca to Boxley. Best times are early in the day and late in the evening through the warmer days. In cold weather, elk may be out in the fields most of the day.

However, if you want to add a little challenge to the adventure and do some elk "hunting", there are fun ways to spend the whole day at it. Up and down the river there are a lot of likely elk spots and exploring them on foot gives you a hike through the woods and lots of other things to look at as well.

Try the North River Road for some of those spots. You turn left on the north side of the Pruitt bridge and wind towards Erbie. The road is narrow and rough but passable, just go slow and be cautious.

Watch for what we call the Shaddox place. The road makes a sharp right turn, goes a few yards, then turns sharply left again. It just looks like you're going around a house and yard fence, and they were there at one time. If you stop there and walk down towards the river, you'll find easy walking down a gentle slope through old fields and an orchard. Go quietly and keep your eyes open. Elk are likely to be somewhere between the road and the river.

If you're used to the Ponca elk, which have become so accustomed to people they hardly look at them, be reminded that elk are a little more skittish here. Stop when you spot them. If you are still and non-threatening, they're likely to pay little attention to you. If you appear to be a reason for alarm, however, they can be out of sight as fast as you can blink.

Watch the elk's head and ears. Pay attention to what they're looking at and listening to and you can tell how they regard you. If their ears are up and they're staring in your direction, they've spotted you and are concerned. If you hold still until their body signals indicate they have not sensed danger, you probably can move even closer. Many times they will return to grazing and only check occasionally to see where you are. If good photos are your goal, a little patience will pay off.

As you get nearer to Erbie on the North River Road, you will see some places where you can walk down towards the river through old farm fields. These are often good places to look for elk. Watch for signs - trails, tracks and droppings - to tell you whether the elk have been using the areas. You may also find bedding areas, numerous big round areas of flattened grass, usually along tree line. These are places where the elk have been sleeping and you'll probably find some there in the late afternoon hours.

Just before the road comes back downhill to the Erbie ford, there's a huge field with a big wooden gate at the entrance and a sign that says it's an agricultural area. It's what you'll hear local folks call the "charcoal fields" and has been a key area for the annual elk gun seasons. The elk are here a lot, if undisturbed.

These fields are right across the river from another, more wooded, key hunting area and you can get to it from the road that goes to the Erbie Campgrounds. On the hill above the campgrounds, where the main road turns parallel to the river bluffs, an old road takes off straight north towards the river. This one is pretty much impassable because of the condition of the first hill, but its really lovely walking. While you can't miss the old fields on the right side of the road, you'll have to look a little closer for the food plot openings on the left. When you reach the fields, go on up to the top of the hill and take off through the woods on the left. You should come out in a string of small openings that have been burned off and re-seeded. Lots of critters from songbirds and bunny rabbits to elk love these food plots.

When you reach the Parker-Hickman Homestead past the Erbie campgrounds, there are two spots to check. One is an easy, level walk across the river and down past the barn on the old Claggett place towards the spot on the river we've always called "Jasper in June", a name left behind by former out of state owners who spent summers there. This field often has elk, especially below the fringe of trees that stands almost down to the river end. The other is up over the hill on the road to Cherry Grove Cemetery. This one is more or less drivable, but more fun to walk. It's easy going despite a relatively steep hill going out and the bonus at the end is a nice view down on a big bend in the river. Don't give up on elk until you've explored thoroughly. One day we had pretty well decided there wasn't an elk anywhere around and sat down for a breather and a snack. We were looking straight down through trees on the river and a big cow elk came up to drink right below us.

There are a number of other potential elk spots on the river all the way from Ponca to Woolum. Just follow the river bluffs and pick any likely looking walking spot. There are lots of old fields where elk like to graze. Some of them are east of the bridge at Pruitt, both sides of the bridge at Carver, and on the Gene Rush Buffalo River Management Area, where extensive elk habitat improvement work has been done. Look for the food plots. I recommend turning east at Carver and circling halfway around the hill before taking off on one of the old roads and trails you will easily find.