A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Art Lander’s Outdoors: Missouri’s Elk, Mountain Lion; Antlerless Deer Harvest Declines; Feral Hogs

Missouri’s elk herd may be hunted as early as 2020, according to a story posted July 18, on the Springfield News-Leader website.

The herd was established in the southeastern corner of the state in 2011 when 108 elk were translocated from Kentucky.

Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) biologist Aaron Hildreth, said the new herd bounced back from the stress of relocation, and a sustained drought in 2012, and now includes about 170 adults, plus the calves born this spring.

Missouri wildlife biologist Aaron Hildreth said mountain lions are suspected of killing five Missouri elk. Missouri’s elk herd, established in 2011 when 108 elk were translocated from Kentucky, is in the southeast corner of the state, about 130 miles west of Wickliffe, Kentucky. (Photo provided)

Missouri’s elk herd is located on the 23,762-acre Peck Ranch Conservation Area, in Carter and Shannon counties, which is about 130 miles west of Wickliffe, Kentucky.

The was an interesting tidbit buried in the story. Hildreth said mountain lions are suspected of killing five Missouri elk.

Laura Conlee, furbearer biologist with MDC, said while there is still is no evidence that Missouri has a breeding population of mountain lions, DNA tests from saliva confirmed that a dead adult cow elk found in Shannon County in February 2016, had been killed, and partially eaten by a female mountain lion.

These findings are significant because female mountain lions typically don’t travel long distances, preferring to live and hunt near where they were born, Conlee said. “Males will disperse over very long distances. All of the mountain lions we’ve confirmed (since 1994) in Missouri have been males.”

One of the most recent confirmed sightings was in April 2018, when track identification and genetic analyses confirmed that a cow elk, suspected to be suffering from symptoms of brain worm infection, was killed by a male mountain lion in Shannon County.

The male cougar was known to MDC biologists as DNA proved that it was the same mountain lion that had been incidentally captured by a trapper in January 2012 in Reynolds County, Missouri. It was the first time MDC biologists had positively encountered the same mountain lion in the state more than once.

In 1996, MDC established a Mountain Lion Response Team to investigate reports and evidence of mountain lions. Since 1994 there have been 72 confirmed sightings of mountain lions in Missouri.

There’s growing evidence that mountain lions are expanding their range eastward from Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Antlerless Deer Harvest Declines

In Kentucky, and throughout the 37-state range of the white-tailed deer, the harvest of antlerless deer (does) has declined in recent years.

The percentage of antlerless deer in the harvest in Kentucky has dropped slowly, but steadily since the 2005 season, the last year that hunters took more does than bucks (52 percent does to 48 percent bucks).

The 12-year trend is part of the reason why deer populations in some counties have increased over time to densities that are well above management goals.

The percentage of antlerless deer in the harvest in Kentucky has dropped slowly, but steadily since the 2005 season, the last year that hunters took more does than bucks (52 percent does to 48 percent bucks). The 12-year trend is part of the reason why deer populations in some counties have increased over time to densities that are well above management goals. (Photo provided)

One indication of deer herd growth in Kentucky is the increase in the number of deer/vehicle collisions reported to the Kentucky State Police (KSP).

In their annual Traffic Collision Facts, KSP reported 3,260 deer/vehicle collisions, with three human fatalities in 2015. A decade earlier in 2005, the number reported had been 2,784 deer/vehicle collisions with one human fatality.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission has proposed a sweeping liberalization of deer regulations for the 2018-19 season that would encourage more antlerless deer harvest. But, at this writing, the proposed regulations have not passed state legislative review and approval.

An article posted on the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) website on July 2, 2018 reported that 1999 was the first year that more antlerless deer than bucks were harvested in the 37 states east of the Rocky Mountains, home to 97 percent of the white-tailed deer in the U.S.

A graphic showed that three seasons later the doe harvest had climbed to more than of 3.5 million, but in years after that the trend was downward, with about 2.75 million does taken during the 2016 season.

Author Kip Adams cited the 2016-17 deer season as an example of what’s happening in America’s productive white-tailed deer heartland. “In over half (six of 11) states in the Southeast, (including) deer-rich Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, and eight of 13 Midwestern states, hunters shot more bucks than antlerless deer. This should not be happening. States like Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin should be shooting far more antlerless deer than bucks, but that’s not the case today.”

QDMA has long been an advocate of antlerless deer harvest as a way to reduce deer densities, balance the buck-to-doe ratio, and improve the overall health of deer herds.

Feral Hog Bounty

Hays County has become the second county in Texas to enact a bounty on feral hogs.

Hunters who bring in a tail from a feral hog will receive $5. The program began July 25, and runs through August 22. The county aims to remove 500 hogs through the bounty program.

“Feral hogs continue to pose significant problems for both agriculture producers and residential property owners in Hays County,” said Jason Mangold, Hays County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Hays County has become the second county in Texas to enact a bounty on feral hogs. Feral hogs, also referred to as wild hogs or wild pigs, are a big problem in the U.S., found in at least 30 states, and are responsible for an estimated $1.5 billion in damage annually. (Photo by Brandon Ray)

The county launched the program after receiving a grant from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Services. The grant will also help fund a feral hog workshop and webinar, a countywide damage assessment, and financial assistance to some landowners attempting to trap hogs.

Wild pigs, also referred to as wild hogs or feral hogs, are a big problem in the U.S.

Wild pigs have been found in at least 30 U.S. states and are responsible for an estimated $1.5 billion in damage annually.

Nearly half of the estimated total number of wild pigs (about 5 million) in the U.S. are found in southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Texans spend about $7 million a year on wild pig eradications, trapping family groups (sounders) in corral traps, aerial gunning them from helicopters, and hunting them over bait (feeders) during the day and at night using night vision scopes on their rifles.

Wild pigs are uninvited pests that compete with native game species for food and living space.

They are incredibly destructive and pose a direct threat to rare and endangered species on sensitive areas such as nature preserves. They have huge appetites, feeding on farm crops of clover, alfalfa, corn and other grains, while trampling fields. Their incessant rooting can damage topsoil, and affect the regeneration of many important trees and plants.

In 2014 it was determined that populations of wild pigs had become established in about 17 Kentucky counties.

Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are not native to this country.

They were imported from Europe, first by Spanish explorers in the 1500s (for food), but now come from a variety of genetic origins.

Wild pigs pose a serious ecological, economic and disease threat, as they are mobile reservoirs for a host of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections.

The wild pigs in Kentucky are a result of illegal releases. It is illegal to possess, sell or transport wild pigs in Kentucky.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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