Gainesville man kills Missouri elk with bow in state’s second elk season
Gainesville resident Mike Ellison made Missouri hunting history last month, earning the title as the only Ozark Countian and one of fewer than 10 Missouri residents to kill an elk in the state within the last century.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Ellison told the Times, talking about the Oct. 19 harvest. “It wasn’t necessarily the monster I’d hoped for, but it was an amazing experience all the same.”
Ellison, who is an avid deer and turkey hunter, said the elk is the first he’d ever killed, but he has accompanied his son Tyler to Colorado where the boy has harvested elk there the last two years, including a Sept. 13 kill this year, he said.
A reintroduced native species
The Missouri Department of Conservation announced last year that it would hold Missouri’s first annual elk hunt since the 1800s after years of successful restoration efforts to bring back the native species, which had been completely wiped out in the late 19th century.
MDC’s reintroduction efforts began in 2011 when agency employees relocated a group of Kentucky elk onto Peck Ranch Conservation Area in south-central Missouri. The efforts continued, with MDC bringing an additional 108 elk to Missouri from Kentucky in 2011-2013. MDC set a goal of growing the elk population to 400-500 head, and announced that it had considered a carefully monitored hunting season just prior to the state herd’s size reaching that goal.
The first hunt, held last year, as well as this year’s hunt, were held through a lottery system in which Missouri residents applied for the chance to be drawn for an elk tag. Only five hunters were drawn each year from the 9,714 permit applications. Many Ozark Countians, including Ellison, applied for the lottery. In June, he was notified that he’d been chosen as one of the five hunters offered tags this year.
“It’s unreal,” he told the Times shortly after the tag announcement was made.
MDC said the five hunters could choose to participate in the archery portion, which ran from Oct. 16-24, or the firearms portion, which will be held Dec. 11-19, and could harvest one bull elk each that had at least one antler that was 6 inches or longer.
Putting in the time and work
“Just as soon as I found out, I started working on it,” Ellison told the Times. “As soon as they called me, we made a few trips over there to try and get the lay of the land and get locals’ input on where to hunt.”
Ellison said between June and October, he made four trips to the Shannon/Carter/Ripley county area, where Missouri’s elk population is located; it’s about two hours away from Ellison’s Gainesville home.
“I spent more time and money scouting this hunt than I did our Colorado hunting trip,” he said, laughing.
Ellison met with some residents of that area and began planning out his hunt. When the time came for the archery portion, he knew he wanted to go all in and harvest a deer with his bow if at all possible.
“I really wanted to kill one with my bow,” he said, “…even if it meant killing a smaller one than I would be able to get with a rifle.”
Although they couldn’t participate in the hunt, Ellison was joined by a group of friends and fellow hunters who came along for the experience. Ellison said that, at different times throughout the hunt, he was joined by elk-area local Ron Morton, “who is just a super-nice guy,” and a few other hunting buddies, including Gainesville resident Zach McKinzie.
McKinzie got to witness the kill from right beside Ellison, he said.
Where it all ended
Ellison started hunting on opening day, Saturday, Oct. 16.
“That day I got within range of a herd. I’d ranged them at 118 yards, and we just couldn’t make it happen. The wind got us, and he [a bull elk] swirled on us and left,” he said.
Ellison didn’t give up, hunting and seeing bull elk each day, including at least three bull elk that were larger than the one he killed. There was never an opportunity to make a good, clean shot.
“We really put the work in on this hunt,” he said.
Then, on Tuesday, his luck took a turn for the better.
“We started out that morning chasing a big herd. We’d heard the bulls bugling early, and then they went away from us. So we made a long way around, probably a half-mile, to get back to them,” he said. “When we got there, as soon as we got out to where they were, he bugled again. He was within 200 yards at that point.”
Ellison said he and his hunting companions slipped through the woods and got closer to where the herd was standing.
“We saw a cow, and we started to do some cow calling. That’s when this bull, he was a satellite bull, came around. He was about 60 yards away, trying to find us. He circled back around above us, trying to get our wind. He made another circle around 100 yards or better and came back up at 50 yards, looking for us. That’s where it ended,” Ellison said.
He let an arrow fly from 50 yards, making contact and bringing down the elk.
“For some people, 50 yards might not be the best shot, but I’d been practicing a lot. I’d taken more shots from 50 yards than anything else. So I was pretty comfortable with it,” he said.
Fresh tenderloin for dinner
Ellison and his crew skinned, cleaned and quartered the animal in the field and began the work of packing out the large elk.
“We were pretty lucky this time in that we were just about 100 yards away from the road. In Colorado, Tyler had killed his elk 12 miles in and 6 miles in. So we have to use horses in those situations,” he said. “But you can only pack about one ham per trip . . . so we did four trips there, then one for the shoulders and head and cape,” he said.
That night, Ellison and the crew enjoyed the freshly harvested elk tenderloin on the grill.
“It was great. Even the local guys said it was about the best elk they’d ever had,” Ellison said.
The rest of the animal was packed in coolers, and Ellison brought the meat back home to process and package for his family’s freezer.
Ellison says he plans to have the bull elk European mounted, a process in which the bleached skull of the animal is mounted. He’ll also have the animal’s cape, or hide, preserved.
Now he’s back in Ozark County with his sights set on killing a big whitetail deer.
But when the December elk season rolls around, he plans to make the two-hour trip back to Missouri’s elk region to help out another hunter.
“I’d met up with some other guys that got drawn [for the elk hunt], and one guy didn’t get one with a bow,” he said. “So we’re heading back out there with him in December to see if he can get one then.”