The elk are in, the sleighs are running and the viewing is good.
If there was a right time to visit Hardware Ranch, say wildlife managers, this is it.
Every year elk come to visit. A few early on, then more as the snow gets deeper. Young and old, cows and bulls . . . they come for two things — food and companionship.
This is the state's one and only elk feeding area. Cows bring their calves early, and the bulls, well, they show up when it's convenient, especially the older, larger ones.
Each day, crews at Hardware Ranch load horse-drawn hay wagons and special deliver meals to the herd.
According to the latest report, there are about 500 elk on the management area. Included in the group are about 35 branch-antler bulls, a k a bull elk with trophy antlers.
The average calf is weighing in at around 200 pounds, and the average cow at around 520 pounds. The larger bulls, because of the size of their antlers, are harder to weigh but run about 650 to 700 pounds at this time of the year.
Each year, elk, drawn by stacks of hay spread daily over the ranch property, migrated down onto pastures near the roadside, a perfect perch to watch from.
There is also a visitors center with a cafe, displays and information.
The elk are counted once or twice a week. Feeding lines of elk make that easy to do. The formula is to drop between five and 10 pounds of hay per day per elk, depending on weather conditions.
Late February and early March typically have some of the best days to view elk because the bulls are still in antlers, the weather is generally warmer and there is enough snow in the hills to hold the elk in place.
Hardware Ranch — sleigh rides, visitors center, cafe and gift shop — is open daily. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Cost for the sleigh rides is $4 for ages 9 and up and $2 for ages 4 to 8. Children 3-years-old and younger ride for free.
For the rest of the season, those with Utah hunting and fishing licenses will be able to get a two-for-one price on sleigh rides.
The rides lasts approximately 20 minutes. Visitors are urged to dress warmly and bring a camera. The new snow on the mountains in the background will make for some memorable photos. Also, the sleighs often come within five to 10 feet of the wild elk. Sleigh drivers give information on the ranch and the elk that winter on the feeding area. No reservations are required to ride the sleighs.
The cafe, located in the visitors center, serves a variety of meals and will continue the evening sleigh ride/dinner combo on Saturday evenings until the ranch closes. Reservations are required. Call 1-435-753-6168 for more information or to make reservations.
Hardware Ranch can be reached by traveling 15 miles east of Hyrum, on Highway 101. Road signs direct visitors to the management area. For more information, visit the Hardware Ranch WMA Web site at www.hardwareranch.com or call 1-435-753-6206.