OUTDOORS: Missouri elk hunters all fill tags

BILL WEHRLE, C-T Outdoors Sports Editor
Bill Wehrle column

By BILL WEHRLE, C-T Outdoors Sports Editor

Missouri’s first elk hunting season ever ended Dec. 20 with all five permit holders filling their tags with bull elk.

Actually there were two elk seasons, one for archery-only back in October and a firearms elk season Dec. 12-20.

Only three Missouri counties – Carter, Reynolds and Shannon, all in southeast Missouri in or near the Peck Ranch Conservation Area – were open to elk hunting this year.

Elk hunting permittees were drawn in a random drawing of more than 19,215 applications, with one permit allocated to a resident-landowner and the other four general permits for Missouri residents.

The five lucky permit holders were allowed to participate in both the October archery season and the December firearms season, but were restricted to just one elk for the year.

The resident-landowner permittee, one of 33 applicants for a landowner tag, harvested his bull elk on his 80-acre farm east of the Peck Ranch CA.  His elk was a spike bull and the other four all were large-racked elk.

Elk were a native species in Missouri, but were hunted to extinction in the state during the late 1800s. This fall’s first-ever controlled elk hunt came after several years of restoration efforts resulted in a growing herd in the heavily-forested Peck Ranch CA area in southeast Missouri.

If the elk herd continues to grow, there will be future elk hunts in Missouri. The elk are being monitored by the Missouri Department of Conservation and won’t be allowed to move outside the southeast Missouri area, so they won’t ever conflict with Missouri’s agricultural economy.

Closely following the first-ever elk season was MDC’s announcement of the state’s first black bear hunting season. It will be held next fall.

The season framework will limit black bear hunting to areas of southern Missouri and will be restricted to Missouri residents only.

The next step will be approval of MDC’s recommendations for an initial permit and harvest quota. Once quotas are set, Missouri residents will be able to apply during May 2021 for an October 2021 fall bear hunt.

Bears, like elk, once were numerous in Missouri, but habitat changes and unrestricted hunting almost wiped them out.

At one time, it was thought that bears were extinct in Missouri, but a remnant population continued to exist in south Missouri’s large forests and a restoration effort in Arkansas resulted in additional bears moving into southwest Missouri.

Bear populations have grown significantly, and MDC studies have found that 540-840 black bears now roam Missouri, primarily south of I-44.

The MDC will allow bear hunting limited to three Bear Management Zones in southern Missouri, with a limited number of hunting permits for each zone and permits limited to use in one specific zone.

Bear hunting season will begin on the third Monday of October and run for 10 days or until the BMZ you’re hunting in has reached a specific quota. Hunters will have to call MDC each day before they intend to hunt to see if that zone’s quota has been reached.

Harvest limit will be one bear per permit. Further regulations and permit and harvest quotas will be available in the near future.

First elk, now bears. What’s next in store for Missouri hunters? A bison season???

(Bill Wehrle’s outdoors sports column appears in the Constitution-Tribune each Saturday.)