Missouri’s elk herd has grown so much in recent years that state conservationists want to allow hunters the chance to hunt them.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is hosting three public meetings this week to take feedback on a limited elk hunting season that could take place in 2020. There are 170 elk that roam in Reynolds, Shannon and Carter counties. State officials want the population to grow to a minimum of 200 elk in Missouri before they allow hunting.
Hunting would help manage the elk population and reduce conflicts between elk and humans, said Barbara Keller, the department’s cervid program supervisor.
For example, in areas where elk are plentiful enough to be a nuisance, they are known to forage on agricultural lands. Predators that once kept the state’s elk herd in check, such as the red wolf, have disappeared in Missouri.
“Back when elk did roam free range throughout the entire state, we did have more predators to control the elk,” Keller said. “And obviously, most of those predators are no longer in the state.”
In 2011, the department began a three-year program to reintroduce elk into the state when there were no elk left in Missouri. Officials brought in the elk from Kentucky to the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in southeast Missouri.
Restoration efforts in recent years have proved successful. Missouri’s elk population has grown at a rate of 10 percent a year. The elk herds have also lured tourists, boosting the local economy in Eminence, Ellington and other Ozark towns. Allowing hunters to hunt elk will help bring more support for these communities, said Brandon Butler, executive director of Conservation Federation of Missouri.
“When you consider the fact that hunters will be investing in licenses and all that comes with the hunt, including groceries and hotel stays, it can be a real nice shot in the arm for the area that needs it,” Butler said.
Butler has hunted elk in other states. In western states, elk hunting requires more stamina because the animals in that region roam a much wider range than in the Midwest. Since the elk’s range in Missouri is smaller, Butler expects hunting them will be similar to hunting deer. People will likely set up places to ambush elk, he said.
“Here, we wait for animals to come to us,” Butler said. “Out west, you actually go to the animal.”
The Department of Conservation likely will only offer a limited number of licenses. The state may only allow hunters to target bull, or male elk, Keller said.
Butler hopes that the lottery is set up to allow hunters an equal shot at obtaining one. Some lotteries give more preference to hunters who have applied more for licenses.
The MDC will host public meetings on the proposed hunting season at 6 p.m. today at Van Buren High School, Tuesday at Ellington City Hall and Thursday at Eminence High School.
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