In response to a growing elk population near Lancaster, Minn., the Department of Natural Resources is increasing the number of antlerless tags available to hunters this fall in northwest Minnesota’s Kittson County, the agency said Wednesday.

The DNR this fall will offer 44 elk licenses, up from 27 offered last year. The hunt also includes more seasons and license options.

The application deadline is Friday, June 12.

“There will be better odds of getting an antlerless license, and we hope hunters consider applying for one of these licenses,” said Barbara Keller, DNR big game program leader. “Elk meat is delicious and fills far more freezer space than a white-tailed deer.”

There are currently three recognized elk herds in northwest Minnesota: Grygla, Kittson Central, and Caribou-Vita. The DNR uses hunting as the main tool to manage elk populations, with harvest of female elk the focus of keeping populations within goal range.

Minnesota’s elk management plan sets a population goal range for each of the three herds.

The increase in licenses follows a winter elk survey that tallied 102 elk in the Kittson Central herd near Lancaster, up from 94 elk during the 2019 survey and 75 elk in the 2018 survey.

The DNR manages the Kittson Central herd with a population goal of 50 to 60 elk.

Elk numbers also increased in a fledgling herd near Grygla, where the winter survey tallied 24 elk, up from 19 last year and 15 in 2018. Despite the increase, the Grygla herd remains below the management goal of 30 to 38 elk, and the DNR hasn’t offered a season near Grygla in several years.

The DNR didn’t survey the Caribou-Vita herd, which ranges between northeast Kittson County and Manitoba, this winter because it’s crucial that both jurisdictions fly the survey the same day to get an accurate count.

Manitoba and Minnesota last surveyed the Caribou-Vita herd March 11, 2018, when they counted 133 elk – 126 in Manitoba and seven in Minnesota – said Doug Franke, area wildlife manager for the DNR in Thief River Falls.

Manitoba’s management goal for the Caribou-Vita herd is 150 elk. Because the population is below that goal, the DNR is offering two bull-only elk tags for the Caribou-Vita herd, with the remaining 42 tags targeting the Kittson Central herd.

Three options

The DNR is allowing hunters to choose from three options when they apply for an elk tag: a license for a bull elk; a license for an antlerless elk, which can be a female or a young male; or a license for either a bull or antlerless elk.

Additional hunting seasons will spread out hunting effort from late August to early December.

The dates for the 2020 Minnesota elk season are:

  • Saturday, Aug. 22, to Sunday, Aug. 30: Four antlerless tags and three either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (Zone 20) zone.

  • Saturday, Sept. 5, to Sunday, Sept. 13: Four antlerless tags and three either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (Zone 20) zone and two bull-only tags will be available in the Kittson northeast (Zone 30) zone.

  • Saturday, Sept. 19, to Sunday, Sept. 27: Four antlerless tags and three either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (Zone 20).

  • Saturday, Oct. 3, to Sunday, Oct. 11: Four antlerless tags and three either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (Zone 20).

  • Saturday, Oct. 24, to Sunday, Nov. 1: Four antlerless tags and three either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (Zone 20).

  • Saturday, Dec. 5, to Sunday, Dec. 13: Four antlerless tags and three either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (Zone 20).

The new license options give better odds of getting a license to hunters who want to shoot an antlerless elk. The DNR now puts antlerless applicants into a separate pool of applicants; in the past, hunters willing to shoot an antlerless elk needed to compete in the lottery against hunters who only planned to harvest a bull.

Applying for a license

Hunters should review the season structure on the DNR website before entering the elk season lottery to make sure they apply for the license they want.

Hunters must select the type of elk license they are applying for: bull-only (two licenses available), either-sex (18 licenses available) or antlerless only (24 licenses available), in addition to the zone and season. Hunters may apply individually or in parties of two online or by telephone at 888-665-4236. There is a nonrefundable application fee of $5 per hunter.

More information is available on the DNR’s elk hunting page. For more on Minnesota’s elk, visit the DNR’s elk management page.