Fall is a prime time to hear elk bugling in the wild. A self-guided auto tour in southeast Missouri provides the opportunity to possibly see and hear this majestic animal. Video courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation
The elk are out there.
But so far none of the Missouri hunters has been able to get close enough to take one with an arrow.
“This is not a canned hunt behind a fence,” notes Aaron Hildreth, an elk specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “These are wild animals, and they can move where they want to go.”
Missouri’s first-ever official elk hunt began Saturday, with an archery season that ends Sunday. A rifle elk season is scheduled Dec. 12-20.
Hildreth said four of the five hunters lucky enough to draw MDC’s first elk permits have been in the field with their bows. Two of the hunters managed to get fairly close to some bull elk, but not close enough to take a shot.
Hildreth said one of the hunters was targeting elk from a blind on private property, while the three other hunters were tracking and stalking bulls on the ground.
“This is a hunt, no different than deer or turkey hunting,” he said. “There’s no guarantees. Sometimes you go out and come back empty.”
Hildreth said the hunters have had big swings in the weather to deal with. Opening day on Saturday was warm and windy — not ideal conditions. Rain was supposed to move in on Sunday but held off until Sunday evening in south central Missouri where the elk roam. By Monday the cold front had settled across Missouri, bringing chilly temperatures and light rain.
Hildreth said the weather swings didn’t hinder the elk. They were still bugling as their mating season winds down.
“For a lot of the hunters here, the key is the elk’s bellies,” Hildreth said. “Elk will go to a spot where they can get the most food with the least amount of effort. That usually means open ground. They’re looking for the path of least resistance to get to their food.”
Knowing that, archery hunters might set up along the edges of open fields, waiting for elk to move out of the forest and onto open ground.
Hildreth noted that for Missouri’s first elk season, only five permits were issued, and only five bull elk can be taken. If a bow hunter doesn’t kill one during the archery portion, he can try again during the firearms season. But if an archer gets an elk, he won’t be able to also hunt in the firearms portion of elk season.
MDC is closely managing the elk herd, which was reintroduced to Missouri in 2011, with a goal of eventually having about 500 elk on the Missouri landscape.