2009 Elk Forecast: Midwest U.S.

There are certainly no shortages of options to take a bull in the Midwest.

Although some states have limited herds, the elk population in the Midwest gives you a host of options, from Kansas to North Dakota.

At present, the only elk herd consistently hunted in Kansas tracks the soils of Fort Riley. Wapiti are also found on the Cimarron National Grasslands in the state’s southwest corner and are appearing in the northwestern corner as well, migrating in from Nebraska. These populations could technically be hunted on some sections of public land, but the odds are slim that hunters would cross paths with them, says Matt Peek, elk program coordinator.

Kansas will issue eight either-sex and 15 anterless elk tags this season, up from last year. Hunters may hunt Fort Riley or contact individual landowners. The only nonresident opportunity is through one tag issued to a qualifying conservation organization. Back in 1918, seven elk from western states were relocated to the state near the town of Wolverine. Now, Michigan has a few more elk than it wants. Even so, a 13-year-old hunter brought down a 383‑inch bull last year that is the new state record. “Our elk are thriving,” says John Niewoonder, big game specialist.

Social factors—not habitat—limit increases in Michigan’s elk herd. Conflicts with agricultural production and other private land activities have the Department of Natural Resources working aggressively to keep elk numbers down to 800 animals, which it is slowly creeping toward. For the four 2009 hunt periods beginning Sept 1 and ending Jan 17, the state issues 380 licenses, 26 of them either‑sex tags, and the rest antlerless.

Two distinct elk herds inhabit the northwestern corner of Minnesota: the Thief Lake herd, whose history dates back to 1935 stocking efforts, and the border herd that overlaps into Manitoba. Elk are found on state wildlife management areas, but crop depredation on nearby private fields is a continual issue in elk management. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has assisted state wildlife managers with habitat purchases and improvements.

Elk tags are allotted depending on the condition of the two herds. Typically, around 10 antlerless tags are issued at lottery along with one or two bull tags. Last year, 11 tags were issued and 11 hunters filled their tags. The state is currently creating a draft elk management plan and seeking public input. It should be finished by September.

There was a time when elk didn’t have the best reputation among northeast Nebraska’s farmers, but over the years, private landowners’ tolerance for elk has grown, says Kit Hamms, big game program coordinator. Nowadays, having elk on your property means bragging rights.

The bulk of Nebraska’s elk are found in three hunting units in the Pine Ridge area in the extreme northwest. Wapiti also traipse other locations: two herds are found on the Niobrara River, a band inhabits the Wildcat Hills region near the North Platte River, and elk also populate portions of Lincoln and Boyd counties. Success rates have hovered around 80 percent for bulls and 40 percent for cows, with the bulk of the harvest on private land. For 2009, 230 non-transferable elk tags will be allotted over seven hunting units. In all, the state will issue 83 bull tags with 27 going to landowners. Due to the limited number of tags, some exceptional bulls are killed each season. Seasons run a month or longer, giving tag-holders ample opportunity to down an elk.

North Dakota
Roughly 150 elk are found in the Pembina Hills of the northeast, a herd that migrated in from Canada. The majority of North Dakota’s elk are found in the Badlands in and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Public hunting occurs on the Little Missouri National Grasslands adjacent to the park. There are some elk that live year-round in the Grasslands, but the number of wapiti available to hunters and the success is highly dependent upon elk movement out of the park.

Roger Johnson, the state’s big game coordinator, anticipates a fine season for hunters this fall with similar success to last year. In 2008, hunters took 203 elk for a 39 percent success ratio. Due to the difficulty of finding elk in the Little Missouri area and the fickle movements of animals coming out of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, tag-holders in this area have a very long season (Sept.-Dec.) to up their odds of making a kill. All told, 561 tags will be issued—the same as last year—with 245 any-sex tags and 315 antlerless, along with one any-sex tag auctioned off by the Elk Foundation.

Check out our interactive elk map for state-by-state populations, tag costs, bull-to-cow ratios and more.

Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

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