MDC officials: Elk hunting in the Ozarks could begin within the next few years

SHANNON COUNTY, Mo. -- North Arkansas is home to 500 wild elk, thanks to a reintroduction program by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission back in the early 1980's.

Just 7 years after elk were reintroduced to the Missouri Ozarks, the herd is thriving. Now the conservation department is looking at a hunting season.

"The thought of working with elk in the area never crossed my mind 25 years ago," Missouri Department of Conservation Elk program manager David Hasenbeck told KY3.

From the winter of 2011 until the spring of 2013, a total of 107 elk were captured in Kentucky and reintroduced to life here in the Ozarks, with radio collars to track their progress.

"The collars tell us how many calves are being produced, how many cows are pregnant, what the growth rate is, what kind of geography they're occupying. We're going to wrap all of that data up into a population model which will help us better manage the elk through the future," Hasenbeck said.

Nowadays Hasenback says the population is around 200, with around 170 adults.

"We basically nearly doubled the population since 2013 and pretty soon we're going to go from 200 to 400 to 500, so the next ten years is going to be a pretty exciting period of time."

Hasenback says the elk numbers and growth rate are promising and there is an appropriate mix of bulls to cows at this time that would suggest future numbers would be ideal for hunting.

He says the framework for hunting will take time to finalize.

"Hopefully within the next several years we'll see our first hunt occur," Hasenbeck exclaimed.

For those wishing to see the elk, Peck Ranch, just northeast of Winona, offers a drive through tour.

The sightseeing of elk and the possibility of future hunting means money for local economies.

That's the case for Eminence, Mo., the small town in Shannon County that former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon dubbed as Elk capital of Missouri.

Eminence Mayor Jim Anderson says it could offer a new stream of revenue for the city.

"It fits well with what we have going on in Eminence. We have lodging, have a dozen eateries open year round. We have it all. We are set up for it here in Eminence. We look forward to seeing some elk hunting also."

An open house hosted by the Department of Conservation will happen Friday night from 6 to 8 at the Eminence High School cafeteria.