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By BRANDON BUTLER
Missouri’s wild elk herd is healthy and growing at an appropriate rate. With approximately 50 calves born this year, the population is now closing in on 200 animals. On one recent day, it was magical for me to view about 50 elk and listen to a number of the bulls bugling.
We’re still a ways off from a hunting season, but capturing images of free ranging, wild elk in the Missouri Ozarks is an experience anyone can enjoy from the comfort of their own vehicle.
Viewing wild Missouri elk, and listening to them bugle, is to me an incredibly moving and inspiring experience. It’s powerful to know we as a society are still working hard to right our past wrongs against wildlife and wild places.
Today, we have dedicated professional scientists at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) working hard to return wildlife species to their native landscapes after being senselessly extirpated a century ago.
Back in 2010, the Missouri Conservation Commission approved an elk restoration plan that called for obtaining wild elk from other states with established wild populations and re-establishing a herd here in Missouri, where elk are a native species. The animals started showing up in 2011. Just six years later, we are able to see success as the herd develops as planned.
Most of the elk live on Peck Ranch Conservation Area, which is located near Winona and consists of 23,763 acres of some of the most rugged country in Missouri, in Shannon County along U.S. 60, just south of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. MDC purchased Peck Ranch in 1945 with funds made available through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.
Initially, the property was used for wild turkey management. Today, it’s home to our latest wildlife restoration efforts, focused on returning wild elk to their native landscape.
There is an elk viewing driving tour at Peck Ranch that is open most of the year. However, it will be closed for managed deer hunts and Dec. 9-10. For more information about elk driving tours at Peck Ranch, call (417) 256-7161.
“We encourage people to take photographs from their vehicles,” Elk Program Manager David Hasenbeck said. “But please do not disturb elk or other wildlife in any way. It’s also important for visitors to know that gravel roads on Peck Ranch may not be accessible to vehicles without adequate ground clearance, and some roads may be impassible at times due to high water at stream crossings.”
MORE TO DO
The elk are best viewed at dawn and dusk, leaving the rest of your day free for a hike, springs tour, picnic or float down either the Jacks Fork River or Current River. Take your binoculars with you. And be sure to take along a camera that has a long lens or a good zoom. The elk can be quite close or a couple hundred yards away.
You could make a trip out of the experience. Grab a room or cabin in Eminence, Winona, Van Buren or Ellington, or camp at one of the many Ozark National Scenic Riverways campgrounds or take a trip to our incredible new state park, Echo Bluff. A fall canoe trip on the Current or Jacks Fork will greatly add to your Ozarks adventure.
Brandon Butler is executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.