Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Elk tags hit new high

Deadline is July 24

Bemidji, Minn. – Hunters in Minnesota will see their odds of
obtaining a once-in-a-lifetime elk-hunting license improve this
year. Thirty tags are now available for the northwest part of the
state, six of which are designated for area landowners.

This year, the area open to hunting has expanded from two to
three zones, two of which are in Kittson County and include the
“border” elk herd. The other zone is east of Grygla.

“The larger hunting area is due to an increasing crop damage
problem in portions of Kittson County,” Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife
Section chief, said in an agency press release.

In fact, the number of elk tags available has spiked the past
two years, from just six in 2007 to 23 in 2008, when a Kittson
County hunt occurred for the first time in modern history. This
year another seven tags are available.

Paul Telander, the DNR’s regional wildlife manager in Bemidji,
said local crop depredation is the “driving factor behind elk
hunting in Minnesota,” that the department attempts to keep the
population at a level to minimize damage to ag crops like soybeans
and sunflowers.

Payments for elk damage to crops in the far northwest have
reflected that crop damage (and subsequent tag increases). State
payments to farmers exceeded $50,000 for the first time last year
(fiscal year 2009; crops planted and harvested in 2008). For fiscal
year 2008, crop damage claims totalled nearly $47,000. Claims are
verified by the state Department of Agriculture, which also makes
payments from General Fund appropriations.

Donovan Pietruszewski, area wildlife manager in Karlstad, said
the Kittson County herd’s “pre-calving” population was about 45
this year; last year it was in the mid-60s. Another 80 or more roam
back and forth between Minnesota and Manitoba. To hunt that herd,
an agreement would need to be reached between the state and the
province. Those animals are part of the Caribou-Vita group.

The Water Tower group, north of Lancaster in Kittson County is
hunted (the zone known as Kittson County-North), as is the
Lancaster group (Kittson County-South), Pietruszewski said.

Ten either-sex licenses will be offered for Kittson
County-South, and five licenses (one either-sex and four
antlerless) will be offered in Kittson County-North.

Pietruszewski said the Kittson County elk herd had been growing
steadily, but that mortality (last year and the upcoming hunting
season) has knocked the herd back. Last year between hunting
harvest, illegal kills, and other causes, the DNR documented a loss
of 28 animals.

“That’s a huge chunk of the population,” Pietruszewski said.

Meanwhile, the Grygla herd’s numbers have remained fairly
consistent, he said, about 50 animals. This year, 15 (two
either-sex and 13 antlerless) tags are available to harvest animals
from the Grygla herd.

The first modern-era elk hunt occurred in 1987, after a court
order two years earlier forced the DNR to cease trapping and moving
elk in several northern Minnesota counties (something the state
Legislature had mandated earlier, and for which it had appropriated
$10,000). Fourteen elk were removed; nine were taken to the Red
Lake Indian Reservation. In response to the lawsuit, the
Legislature repealed the earlier rule and created a hunting season
(when the population allowed) and provided crop damage dollars.

Telander said four permits were available to hunt elk in 1987;
in 1996 there were eight permits available. There were five permits
available in 2004 and 2005, eight in 2006, and six in 2007. Last
year, 23 permits were issued.

The number of applicants has varied, Telander said. There were
just 570 applicants in 2007, but 1,215 in 1996. Last year, with the
advent of a new zone, more than 2,000 hunters applied for the
limited permits.

Most years, antlerless permits outnumber either-sex permits,
Telander said, because harvest of females goes further in
controlling elk populations.

“Social carrying capacity (acceptance of elk by area citizens)
is the driving factor behind elk management in Minnesota,” he said.
“We try to keep the population low to prevent elk-crop
depredation.”

What the actual population level should be in both the Grygla
and Kittson County areas may soon be determined, Telander said. The
DNR is in the process of updating its elk-management plan. It hopes
to have a draft ready by later this summer (or early fall) at which
time members of the public may review and comment on the plan. A
draft currently is available on the department’s website.

Because the majority of interest will be for the either-sex
licenses, the DNR will have a two-stage internal lottery process.
This means hunters will apply for only their preferred area. Once
those hunters have been identified by a preference area, a random
drawing will be held to determine whether they get an either-sex or
an antlerless license and the dates on which they can hunt.

Qualified landowners this year may receive up to six elk tags
(by state statute, 20 percent of the available total); if they’re
unsuccessful, they will be entered in the general hunter
drawing.

There will be three seasons in each zone, divided as
follows:

€ Sept. 12-20, two either-sex and three antlerless licenses in
Grygla, two either-sex in Kittson-South, and one either-sex license
in Kittson-North.

€ Sept. 26-Oct. 4, five antlerless licenses in Grygla, four
either-sex licenses in Kittson-South, and two antlerless licenses
in Kittson-North.

€ Nov. 21-29, five antlerless licenses in Grygla, four
either-sex licenses in Kittson-South, and two antlerless licenses
in Kittson-North.

All successful applicants will be required to attend an
orientation session at Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area
headquarters in Middle River prior to the hunt. Hunters should be
aware that all three zones contain private land; permission to hunt
these lands should be obtained prior to purchasing their
license.

Maps of the three hunt zones and additional application
information are available at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/elk/index.html.

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