The Missouri Department of Conservation has announced a framework to open a limited season for Missouri residents to hunt elk that could start as soon as 2020.
Aaron Hildreth, elk biologist, said the department plans to offer a limited hunting season once the herd of about 175 animals reaches a minimum of 200 with an annual herd growth rate of at least 10 percent. The criteria also includes a herd ratio of at least four cow elk for every bull elk.
He said the herd will likely reach 200 animals by 2020. The agency hopes to eventually reach a target population of 500 elk and will use hunting to manage herd size and location.
The Missouri Conservation Commission gave its initial approval of the proposed plan at a public meeting on June 28 at the conservation department’s headquarters building in Jefferson City.
The conservation department has designated a nine-day archery season for elk running Oct. 17 through 25, 2020 and a nine-day firearms season for elk running Dec. 12 through 20, 2020.
Under the framework, elk hunting would be limited to Missouri residents that are at least 11 years of age who have their hunter-education certification or are exempt from hunter education and were born before January 1, 1967.
Hunting permits would be assigned through a random lottery of all applicants.
The agency will require a $10 application fee to be eligible for the limited hunt with a $50 permit fee for those selected through the lottery. The conservation department will limit the random lottery to one application per-person each year with a 10-year “sit-out” period for those drawn for a permit before they may apply again.
The hunting zone will be limited to Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties. The hunting zone will exclude the special refuge portion of Peck Ranch Conservation Area where elk were initially reintroduced.
He said elk are a native species in Missouri but were hunted to extinction in the state through unregulated market hunting during the late 1800s. MDC worked with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to reintroduce the native species by capturing and transporting wild elk from Kentucky between 2011 to 2013.
Permits issued each year will be valid for a nine-day archery season beginning the third Saturday in October and a nine-day firearms season beginning the second Saturday in December.
Hildreth said that the timing of the seasons was designed to avoid the peak of elk breeding during late September and early October and to avoid the elk season coinciding with portions of the firearms deer season.
“The allowed hunting methods for each season will be the same as for deer hunting,” Hildreth said. “The permits will allow for the harvest of one bull elk with at least one antler being greater than six inches in length. Successful hunters must Telecheck their harvested elk just like they do for deer.”
He said local landowners have been supportive of the reintroduction of elk to the area and local communities have benefited from an increase in tourism related to elk viewing.
Hildreth said the conservation department will reserve at least one permit from the annual random lottery for resident landowners with at least 20 acres within a specified boundary within Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties.
The special landowner permits will be nontransferable and may only be filled on the landowner’s property.
“Qualifying landowners will not be required to pay the $10 application fee but will still pay a $50 permit fee if selected,” Hildreth said. “If selected, they will not be required to wait 10 years before again applying for the landowner permit. Qualifying landowners may apply once each year for a regular hunting permit and for a special landowner permit but may receive only one permit annually.”
Hildreth said the number of permits for a possible 2020 hunt has yet to be determined.
“If the elk population is below desired numbers in early 2020, the Conservation Commission may choose to not open the online application process or issue any permits for a fall 2020 hunt,” Hildreth said. “We will then focus on 2021.”
If the framework is approved, MDC staff will then compile and review biological data on herd size and structure to determine if the inaugural hunt will occur in 2020. If the data supports a hunt, staff will then present their recommendations on permit numbers to MDC’s Regulations Committee and Conservation Commission early next year.
The conservation department will be accepting public comment on the proposed elk hunting framework through Aug. 31 online at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z49.