Researchers with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) are studying Missouri’s elk herd and the information they gather will be vital in future management of the herd. MDC biologists say visitors to the elk zone needn’t be concerned if they see MDC employees working with the herd.
“Field workers are actively working thru the winter to capture and radio collar elk,” said Dave Hasenbeck, MDC’s elk program manager. “If you’re viewing the elk and you see agency vehicles in the field or nearby the elk, remember that they are attempting to capture elk for research purposes; they’re not intending to disrupt the viewing experience.”
Hasenbeck said data gathered from radio collared elk will be used to guide habitat management as well as help with decisions on when and how elk hunting seasons will be established over the upcoming years. The possibility of limited elk hunting has been part of the goal for the herd since elk were brought back to Missouri, he said.
Efforts to restore elk began in 2011 when MDC initially brought 34 elk to Peck Ranch Conservation Area from Kentucky. More elk were introduced in 2012 and 2013, bringing the total number to just over 100 animals. The elk population and the range they occupy are slowly expanding. Hasenbeck estimates the current size of the herd at about 170 animals.
“As time goes by, and the herd continues to grow, elk are becoming more visible in places they haven’t been seen before,” Hasenbeck said. “They are now commonly observed on the Current River from above Van Buren to the Blue Springs area.”
Late winter is a good time to see elk because in colder weather they tend to feed in out in the open for longer periods in the earliest and latest parts of the day. The elk also tend to group into bigger herds in late winter, which makes finding them easier.
“The Peck Ranch and Current River Conservation Area driving tours still offer the best chance to see elk, but at times Waymeyer and Logyard recreational areas on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways are places to view good numbers of elk,” he said.
Hasenbeck reminds visitors to these areas that elk should be appreciated, viewed and photographed from a safe distance. He recommends staying inside vehicles when in the presence of elk.
“Elk are large wild animals and can be unpredictable especially during calving and breeding seasons,” he said. “By keeping your distance, you won’t spook the elk and everyone can enjoy watching them. Park in a safe area off the road or highway and please avoid driving in the fields elk are feeding in.”