JASPER (AGFC) – Thirty-one years after the first elk were released near the Buffalo River, a hunter scored during the 2012 hunt. It was on the original release site.
The late Hilary Jones called his land the Ponderosa. It is near the Pruitt community north of Jasper, and Jones' roots in the area went way back, before the Civil War. Jones was the prime mover in restoring elk to Arkansas after an absence of well over a century. He was a member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and the first seven of an eventual 112 elk were brought to Arkansas in December 1981 and released on the Ponderosa after spending a few days in a corral on the land.
Later releases of the elk from Colorado, with a few from Nebraska, were made on other private land in the Buffalo River country.
Mark Mistler acquired Jones' land in recent years, and it was Mistler who took a cow elk during the 2012 hunt in the private land segment of the annual event.
Jones, who hunted extensively in western states, said shortly after the restoration began, "In 20 years, we'll be hunting elk in Arkansas." He was off a little in the timing of the prediction. Hunting started 17 years later, in 1998.
The public land elk permits are a coveted item for Arkansans, with thousands applying each year for the two dozen or so free permits. The private land hunting is under a different format, with hunters obtaining landowner permission then buying $35 permits. The annual limit is one elk for both the public and private hunts.
Those original 112 elk have increased to an estimated 500, with the controlled hunts helping keep the elk population within the carrying capacity of the land near the Buffalo River.
Jones died shortly before that first hunt in 1998. His legacy also includes the Hilary Jones Wildlife Museum and Elk Information Center, a facility of the Game and Fish Commission on Arkansas Highway 7 on the northern edge of Jasper.
The AGFC's elk program coordinator is Wesley Wright, Jones' grandson-in-law. Wright said, "His idea was to have a successful elk hunting season in Arkansas for all to enjoy – private landowners and citizens of the state. I feel that this program has been a huge success, and he would be proud if he could see it today."