The population of Missouri’s wild elk herd is growing fast enough that the Department of Conservation is making tentative plans for a hunting season in 2020.
At the Missouri Conservation Commission’s meeting Friday, cervid biologist Aaron Hildreth provided an update on Missouri’s elk population, including information about the potential for an elk hunting season in fall 2020.
The elk population in Missouri started with 108 animals relocated from Kentucky to three counties in the Missouri Ozarks between 2011 and 2013. There were 81 surviving elk in 2013 of the original release individuals. The population now stands at about 170, Hildreth said.
The animals are on track to have a population of about 200 by 2020 and between 400 and 500 by 2024, Hildreth said in his presentation.
Hildreth said calf survival in 2017-18 was about 63 percent, and adult reproductive rates are at 79 percent.
“It’s nice to see a lot of little spotted calves running around on the landscape.”
He also said that 95 percent of elk locations are within the elk restoration zone.
A population of 200 is one of three prerequisites to creating an elk season, which Missouri has never had. The other two are a 10 percent population growth for three consecutive years and a ratio of at least 25 bulls for every 100 cows.
Hildreth cautioned, however, that simply meeting the recommendations, which were set in 2013, won’t trigger the start of elk hunting season.
The Department of Conservation will factor elk pregnancy and survival rates into its decision about when the hunting season would begin. It also wants to avoid creating the inaugural season when the population is either too small or too large.
The Department also must figure out the logistics of permit distribution as well as hunting format and rules.
Hildreth mentioned those factors in his presentation but said in an interview that they were left vague for a reason.
“We want to provide the public with the opportunity to help shape the inaugural elk season,” Hildreth said.
With the season potentially opening in the fall of 2020, Hildreth said the Department will seek public input in the coming months because the formal regulation process can take up to 18 months.
There will be three or four meetings for those who live around the elk restoration zone, along with a web announcement for the rest of the state coupled with a public comment period.
Hildreth said the public input options will vary.
“We may put out options A, B and C and see what the public wants,” Hildreth said. “Others may be more structured or more open.”
The commissioners agreed with Hildreth that engaging the public will be paramount to a successful elk season.
The designated hunting area has not been determined, either. Hildreth said a portion of Peck Ranch Conservation Area may be closed off to provide a refuge area for the elk. He added the elk are aware of what areas have differing levels of human disturbance, and that they could design the hunt around that.