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A lone elk  rwk

A lone elk at Lone Elk Park in St. Louis County (Post-Dispatch)

JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians will be legally allowed to kill elk again next year, but just not very many.

In a draft set of rules formally published by the Missouri Department of Conservation this week, the agency suggests it may only award five elk hunting permits through a lottery system.

Officials say the small number of permits could grow to as many as 30 if current reproduction rates push the number of elk in the state to more than 400, but that may be years away.

“That initial estimate was based on achieving the minimum number of 200 animals for a season. We have not determined an official number for the first season,” said MDC spokesman Joe Jerek.

Currently, the herd stands at about 175 animals.

Elk were common in Missouri before European settlement but had been eradicated from the state by the end of the Civil War.

They were reintroduced to the state beginning in 2011 when about 50 were trapped in Kentucky and taken to a ranch in Shannon County.

Some died during the relocation and a 2012 drought, and the herd will now grow only through reproduction.

With the herd now at about 175 animals, officials believe the state could offer a nine-day archery season in October and a nine-day firearm season in December 2020 once the herd reaches about 200 animals.

The plan has received initial approval from the Missouri Conservation Commission and is now in the public comment stage.

The proposal calls for elk hunting to be limited to Missouri residents ages 11 and up.

Permits would be assigned through a random lottery and hunters can only apply for a permit once every 10 years.

Jerek said the agency has not determined how many people will enter the lottery.

But, in 2018, nearly 486,000 people received permits to hunt deer. That same year, 290,224 deer were harvested.

Just as the number of elk licenses will be kept small, the hunting zone for elk will be limited to Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties, but will exclude the special refuge portion of Peck Ranch Conservation Area where elk were initially reintroduced.

One permit will be reserved for resident landowners with at least 20 acres within a specified boundary within Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties. The special landowner permits will be nontransferable and may only be filled on the landowner’s property.

The proposal comes as state lawmakers approved legislation this year to boost the fines for poaching elk and other game.

In February, Missouri conservation agents said two elk were shot and killed on Feb. 8 in the Log Yard area of Shannon County, bringing to five the number of known elk killings since the species was brought back to Missouri in 2011.

While a permit will cost $50 plus a $10 application fee, the fines for poaching will be more than $10,000.

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Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch