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.”
For Mount Vernon resident Joseph Benthall, his elk harvest comes as a brilliant “first” in many amazing respects. No one has brought an elk home in Missouri as part of a state-sanctioned hunting season ever before. Now, as of this past weekend, Benthall is officially the state’s first to legally harvest an elk in the state’s history.
No hunter has been able to pursue the large cervids in Missouri’s modern history. 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.
Joseph Benthall: First in Missouri History to Legally Harvest Elk
As a part of this initiative, Joseph Benthall and four others 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.”
Missouri Hopes to Make Elk Part of their 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 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.