The high-pitched squeals of bull elks calling their cows can now be heard throughout the rugged hills and valleys of Shannon County in the south-central part of Missouri. It is a sound silenced for over 150 years until 2011, when the state reintroduced elk to Peck Ranch Conservation Area.
Elk were once plentiful in the state. But as settlers moved west and started hunting them for meat, hides and antlers, the population declined. The Missouri Department of Conservation says they were over hunted and eventually eliminated from the state by 1865.
So, MDC set out to restore habitat to facilitate the elk’s return. It took roughly 30 years to develop a landscape that would sustain these wild animals. Finally, in 2011, MDC introduced 28 cows and one bull to the 2,300-acre Peck Ranch. Today, there are about 170 adult elk living in the conservation area. And if you take a self-guided driving tour, you may just catch a glimpse of these ancient animals.
Peck Ranch allows individuals to traverse the area to elk watch. The best time is right after sunrise or before sunset. Visitors can get out of the vehicle to take photos or just get a better view but are advised not to disturb the elk.
The ranch is open seven days a week — except for managed deer hunts, fall firearms deer season, and if roads are closed due to weather. But in 2020, there may be another time the area shuts down.
The state is considering a limited elk hunt. MDC says the strength of the herd numbers would allow for a hunt. The herd needs to have at least 200 elk, grow at a rate of 10% for three consecutive years and maintain a 25% bull elk to cow ratio. Peck Ranch’s herd already meets the last two criteria, and MDC officials believe the herd will increase to 200 in the next year.
The hunt will be used as a management tool to keep the herd from getting too large. MDC held public open houses this winter, listening and offering options for a future limited elk-hunting season in the state.
Whether you’re interested in what the elk look like as a future hunt option or to see these stately beasts up close, consider a driving tour. Just get in the car, head toward Rolla, then about 80 more miles south. You know you are getting close when you hear the bull call.