Archery hunters eager for first Missouri elk season this weekend
Missouri's first ever official elk hunt begins this weekend, and several of the five lucky hunters who drew a $50 permit are hoping they'll be the first to take one with a bow.
The elk archery season runs Oct. 17-25, followed by a firearms season Dec. 12-20.
The chance to hunt an elk in Missouri — where they once were native before being wiped out in the late 1800s — is a testament to the Missouri Department of Conservation's effort to bring them back to their natural habitat in south-central Missouri.
"They seem pretty happy down there," said Eugene Guilkey, of Liberty, Missouri, who said he has never hunted elk before.
"I'll be there at the crack of dawn, where I think they are," Guilkey said, of the first day of elk season. "I've hunted deer for years, but not elk."
Guilkey said he thinks there'll be a difference in the way he targets elk.
"Deer pattern the same every day," he said. "If one walks through on a Monday, it will walk through the same areas on Tuesday. With elk, their range is so much bigger. You may not even see it."
He has eaten plenty of deer but never tasted elk. He hopes to change that after this weekend.
"I sure hope so!"
Michael Buschjost of St. Thomas, Missouri, said he has hunted elk in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, "and killed a few bulls" with his bow.
Hs said he already has done four scouting trips to the elk lands in south-central Missouri and has some areas already in mind where he plans to hunt.
He looks forward to bringing home a lot of fresh Missouri elk for the table.
"I tell people elk's taste is halfway between deer and beef," Buschjost said. "It's really good."
Like Guilkey, Buschjost said he appreciates the conservation department's efforts to restore elk to their native habitat in Missouri. He said the new elk season will bring revenue to an area that needs it.
"I think it's great," he said. "And the elk seem pretty happy down there."
Bowhunter Sam Schultz of Winfield, Missouri, said he thinks this weekend's hunt will be a lot different than the 2001 trip he took to southwest Colorado to hunt elk.
"In Colorado you can get on the side of a mountain and glass a large area," he said. "You can't do that here, especially with all the trees."
He plans to travel Friday and be ready early Saturday morning for his chance to take the first legal elk in Missouri in over a century.
"I have a spot I'm going to start at where I saw a few," he said. "Hopefully they'll still be there."
Schultz said he, too, appreciated the effort it took to re-establish elk in Missouri.
"I only wish it had happened sooner," he said.
The two other elk permit holders are Bill Clark of Van Buren and Joe Benthal of Mt. Vernon.
Will drought and a big weather change affect the elk hunters' chances?
"While it is certainly dry, there is still quite a bit of available water on the landscape and the Current River cuts through a large portion of the elk range," said Aaron Hildreth, cervid biologist with MDC. "Elk are highly adaptable and resourceful. I don’t expect the current drought will have many impacts on elk movements or hunter success. The weather is looking good. Highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s. Both the elk and the hunters should enjoy the weather."
The expanding elk herd has also drawn some of their natural predators, including mountain lions. Several elk have been killed by mountain lions, a factor MDC has been tracking since elk were reintroduced.
Hildreth said the last confirmed mountain lion activity within the elk herd happened in February of this year.
Elk reintroduced in 2011
MDC began its elk restoration project in 2011, bringing 108 wild elk from Kentucky.
They have thrived at their Peck Ranch Conservation Area east of Winona and Eminence, and the herd now has grown to more than 200, one of the benchmarks for establishing a limited elk hunting season.
MDC hopes to eventually grow the elk herd to about 500 animals and use hunting to keep the herd size in check.
If one of the archery hunters is successful this weekend, it won't be the first time a hunter has killed a Missouri elk in recent times.
In November 2017, a Missouri teen shot and killed what she thought was a huge buck deer with her .243-caliber rifle. It turned out to be an elk.
The incident was a Missouri Wildlife Code violation and prompted the conservation department to remind hunters they need to properly identify their target before pulling the trigger.
Because she was a juvenile, MDC declined to release any information about penalties the teen may have received.