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Fall is a prime time to hear elk bugling in the wild. A self-guided auto tour in southeast Missouri provides the opportunity to possibly see and hear this majestic animal. Video courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation

She saw the antlers and a big brown body in the bushes.

And with one shot from her rifle Saturday, Abby Wilson, 14, killed what she thought was a very large white-tailed buck.

It wasn’t. It was an elk.

“She called her dad, who was hunting nearby, and her dad realized it was an elk,” said Tom Strother, protection regional supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “The dad called our agent in Boone County, Adam Doerhoff, and said ‘we think we just shot an elk’.”

Doerhoff said he was surprised to get that call and thought it probably wasn’t an elk, noting that animal misidentifications are very common.

“The dad sent me a photo to my phone and it was very clear that, yes, that’s an elk,” Doerhoff said. “You don’t expect to see something like that. I’ve learned to never say never.”

Missouri currently has no hunting season for elk, though MDC is growing a herd in southeast Missouri after reintroducing elk to their native habitat at Peck Ranch Conservation Area in 2011.

Strother said the elk that Abby shot was more than 200 miles away from that Peck Ranch herd, in an area between Hallsville and Centralia. It took five men to load the elk into a truck, where MDC is doing a number of tests on the carcass.

They’re looking for signs of Chronic Wasting Disease, which elk have been known to carry, and a DNA test that might tell them where the elk came from.

“Our elk biologist wants some parts to figure out where it may have come from,” Strother said. “There are no reports of elk in this area. It was kind of a surprise to us. There was no evidence of any ear tags or collars on this one.”

Strother said there is a ranch that has captive elk near Columbia on the west side of Boone County, but MDC has had no reports of any of those animals escaping.

“Hopefully folks in this area will share any trail cam photos they might have showing an elk,” Strother said. “It looked like it was a really healthy animal. It was a 4-by-4 bull, meaning there were four points on each antler.”

Strother said the circumstances of how the elk was shot are still being investigated, but so far there have been no enforcement actions against the young hunter.

“She saw antlers, she saw the body. She thought it was a deer and took the shot,” Strother said. “This young girl probably had never seen an elk in the wild before. The dad certainly did the right thing by immediately calling us.”

Strother said Abby had passed a hunter education course and could legally be hunting on her own. Still, there are some important lessons to be learned from the incident, he said.

“The big thing is to know your target and make sure you know it’s a legal deer,” he said. “You want to positively ID the animal you’re going to shoot, but also know what’s beyond your target — a tractor, a house or other hunters.”

The elk carcass currently is being held in a cooler and the meat might be donated to a needy family if it passes the CWD test. Strother said it’s possible the elk’s antlers might be used as an educational display to help hunters know the difference between a white-tail deer and an elk. 

Deer season opener results

Deer hunters in Missouri killed 94,977 deer during the opening weekend of the November portion of the fall firearms deer season Nov. 11 and 12, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Of those, 54,027 were antlered bucks, 9,535 were button bucks, and 31,415 were does.

Top counties for opening weekend were Howell with 2,095 deer checked, Franklin with 2,060 and Texas with 1,855. 

Last year hunters checked 96,131 deer during the opening weekend of the 2016 November portion of firearms deer season. 

The November portion of fall firearms deer seasons continues through Nov. 21. Archery deer season opens again Nov. 22 through Jan. 15, 2016. The late youth portion of firearms deer season runs Nov. 24-26. The antlerless portion of firearms deer season runs Dec. 1-3 and the alternative methods portion will run Dec. 23- Jan. 2, 2018.

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