The Department of Natural Resources will offer 30 licenses for this year’s elk season in Kittson County of northwest Minnesota, down from 44 last year but still above the 27 licenses offered in 2019. Seasons will run from late August until mid-October, and the deadline to apply for one of the licenses is Friday, June 11.
The DNR increased last year’s elk licenses after a winter 2020 aerial survey tallied 102 elk in the Kittson central herd near Lancaster, Minn., which was up from 94 during the 2019 survey and 75 in the 2018 survey.
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The DNR didn’t conduct an aerial survey this past winter because of the pandemic.
This year’s seasons are similar to last year’s, which provided hunters with more opportunities to harvest antlerless elk. Hunters can choose from three license options: 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.
There are currently three recognized herds in northwest Minnesota: Grygla, Kittson Central and Kittson Northeast, which is also referred to as the Caribou-Vita or border herd, because the animals range between Minnesota and Manitoba.
Because there wasn’t an elk survey this past winter, the DNR used population estimates developed from field and modeling data to identify a level of harvest for this year’s season that is consistent with its elk management goals. The licenses available for 2021 support continued population reduction but were decreased relative to 2020.
The Kittson central herd is predicted to be above goal, the DNR said, providing the majority of this year’s hunting opportunities. Minnesota’s elk management plan sets a population goal range for each of the three herds.
During February 2020, the DNR counted 126 elk in most of the state’s elk range in Kittson, Marshall and Beltrami counties. The Grygla and Kittson Central herd counts were 24 and 102 elk, respectively. The Caribou-Vita herd was last surveyed in 2018.
The Grygla and the Caribou-Vita herds remain below goal, which is why the Grygla area elk zone remains closed to hunting, and minimal permits (two bull-only licenses) are available for the Caribou-Vita zone. The limited bulls-only season is held to keep the Caribou-Vita herd wary of human presence and development.
The dates for the 2021 Minnesota elk season are:
Saturday, Aug. 28, to Sunday, Sept. 5: Five antlerless tags and two either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (zone 20) zone.
Saturday, Sept. 11, to Sunday, Sept. 19: Five antlerless tags and two 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. 25, to Sunday, Oct. 3: Five antlerless tags and two either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (zone 20) zone.
Saturday, Oct. 9, to Sunday, Oct. 17: Five antlerless tags and two either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (zone 20) zone.
The DNR uses hunting as the main tool to manage elk populations, with focused harvest of female elk aimed at keeping populations within goal range.
Hunters took 35 elk – 20 cows or antlerless elk and 15 bulls – during the 2020 season in zone 20 for a success rate of 83%, while both hunters drawing tags in zone 30 shot bulls, DNR records show. The DNR hasn't offered a season near Grygla in several years.
Applying for a license
Hunters should review the elk season structure on the DNR website before entering the lottery to ensure they apply for the license they want. Five licenses are reserved for applicants who have unsuccessfully applied for at least 10 years and five licenses are reserved for hunters who meet landowner requirements.
Hunters must select the type of elk license they are applying for: bull-only (two licenses available), either-sex (eight licenses available) or antlerless-only (20 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.
Successful hunters will need to present their animal within 24 hours of harvest for registration and collection of biological samples to screen for diseases or other health-related issues.