Each of these five ecstatic sportsmen will go down in Missouri’s history books as the first to ever legally hunt and bag elk within the state. While there was an archery season from October 17 – 25, no harvests took place. It was the firearms season instead, running from December 12 – 20, that brought the momentous harvests.
Missouri’s Triumphant Five
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the second and third harvests came courtesy of Samuel Shultz of Winfield and Michael Buschjost of St. Thomas on December 15th. Shultz’s harvest brought in a 5×6 bull elk on a private hunting reserve in Shannon County that Tuesday. Congruently, Buschjost brought in a 6×6 bull “outside of the refuge portion of Peck Ranch Conservation Area,” MDC adds.
The fourth harvest came as Gene Guilkey of Liberty, Missouri, harvested an impressive 6×7 bull elk on December 16. His Wednesday hunt took place on Shannon County public land.
“I have never hunted elk before,” Guilkey tells MDC of his harvest. “This hunt was the dream trip of a lifetime. I literally dreamed of taking a 6×6 bull but didn’t think it was possible nor would I be up to it,” he continues, “but the good Lord above had better plans than I did!”
Lastly, Bill Clark of Van Buren would have the honor of securing this momentous elk hunting season as an all-out success for all five state-permitted hunters. His fifth and final harvest came courtesy of his resident-landowner antlered-elk permit. Clark would harvest his bull elk on his own 80 acres of property. His December 19 bag on Peck Ranch Conservation Area came after decades of pursuing elk for the hunter. Remarkably, the hunter is near 80 himself.
“I see elk on our land all the time,” Clark begins of his incredible feat. “I’m nearly 80 and use a cane and a crutch so I’m limited in my mobility. I was standing on my back deck and saw a group of cow elk about 100 yards through the trees in the yard with a spike bull with them. He stopped, and that was the shot I had and the shot I took. We then broke down the carcass and are processing it ourselves.”
Joseph Benthall Bags First-Ever Legal Missouri Elk
Perhaps the only harvest, then, that could be grander than Clark’s – is Joseph Benthall‘s.
On Saturday, December 13, the Mount Vernon, Missouri resident bagged his 2.5-year-old bull elk on National Park Service lands. His impressive harvest in Log Yard near Ellington was, as a result, the first of Missouri’s first-ever elk hunting season.
The Missouri man’s elk harvest marks him as “the first Missouri hunter to harvest an elk in the history of having a hunting season,” according to the MDC. No one has brought an elk home in Missouri as part of a state-sanctioned hunting season before in history.
Elk hunting in Missouri has been illegal for many, many decades. In fact, the state’s elk population was hunted to extinction two centuries ago.
While elk are native to Missouri, unregulated “market hunting” practices of the 18th and 19th centuries saw them wiped out by the end of the 1800s. A restoration effort for the species would not begin for well over 100 years. Missouri saw its first elk in generations after a 2011 state program saw a population relocated from Kentucky to the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in the Missouri Ozarks.
Fast-forward to the end of 2020, and the reintroduction has been successful enough to warrant an elk hunting season. It comes for the very first time in Missouri state history.
Missouri’s First Elk Hunting Season a Rousing Success
As a part of this initiative, Joseph Benthall and his four fellow hunters were granted permits for Missouri’s first elk hunting season. The state’s elk specialist with their Dept. of Conservation, Aaron Hildreth, says that these five permit holders began their hunt in archery season, but each wound up unsuccessful.
“Those same hunters had the opportunity to go back out and fulfill their tags,” Hildreth clarifies of the rifle hunt beginning December 12. Only five bull elks would be able to be harvested – and there would only be one first. As the permit-wielding archers transferred over into the firearm season, Benthall would become the first to succeed.
And he has his own perseverance and skill as a hunter to thank for it. As Benthall began wrapping up his hunt this past Saturday, Hildreth says he spotted a bull elk on Shannon County public land.
“He became the first Missouri hunter to harvest an elk in the history of having a hunting season,” Hildreth adds of Benthall’s remarkable feat.
The bull has yet to be officially weighed, however. For now, state elk expert Hildreth estimates that the young bull is in the 600-pound range. At a confirmed two-and-a-half-years-old, this is a large, fine specimen in his prime.
“It’ll probably end up yielding between 200 to 250 pounds of meat,” Hildreth lauds of the state’s first harvest. “It’ll be a substantial amount of meat.”
Elk to be Part of Missouri’s Hunting Future?
Of the previously mentioned reintroduced elk, most were cows, calves, and immature bulls. This herd of around 100 has more than doubled in the past decade. But Missouri has a ways to go before they’ll consider themselves host to a modern, healthy population of elk. Hildreth and the MDC hope to host a population 500 strong in the state. As they continue toward this goal, they will continue to enlist hunting to manage the size and locations of herds.
“Conservation does not always have to be about hunting or the harvest of an animal, but, in this case, the harvesting of this bull is really a significant milestone because we’ve been able to go from basically not having elk in Missouri for over 150 years to now we have a population that is sustainable and can deal with regulated hunting,” he clarifies for the local newspaper.
Missouri’s monumental season will continue on in the firearms portion until this Sunday, December 20. Four elk harvests remain by state regulations.
“The first-ever elk season will wrap up, and so there will be no more hunting of elk until likely sometime in 2021,” Hildreth says of the remaining season. “The season structure would be the same where we have an archery portion in October. [Then] a firearms portion in December for however many permit-holders there are.”
Missouri hunters looking to join in future elk hunts may be able to apply for permits following Spring 2021.