Elk hunters in northwest Minnesota had a 75 percent success rate this fall, the Department of Natural Resources said.

The DNR offered 22 elk licenses-20 in the Kittson Central Hunt Zone near Lancaster, Minn., and two bull tags in the Northeast Kittson Hunt Zone near Caribou, Minn., on the Manitoba border-and 17 hunters filled their tags, shooting five bulls and 12 cows or other antlerless elk, the DNR said.

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"I'm very pleased with that," said John Williams, northwest region wildlife supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji. "A 75 percent harvest rate is doggone good."

The DNR upped the number of elk licenses available this year in an effort to bring the Kittson Central elk herd near Lancaster back in line with population goals outlined in the state's elk management plan.

Crafted with help from a stakeholder working group, the plan calls for a management goal of 50 to 60 elk for the Lancaster herd, but the DNR tallied 75 elk during an aerial survey last winter. Because cow elk drive the population, the DNR increased the number of antlerless tags, Williams said.

The DNR offered 16 antlerless licenses this year, up from two in 2017.

"We tried to craft the season so that we could have the maximum impact to that Lancaster herd because we're over goal," Williams said. "We were looking at hitting the reproductive component of that herd, which is always the antlerless or (cow elk)."

Hunters could apply individually or in groups of two for the once-in-a-lifetime licenses. Hunts in the Kittson Central zone were held Sept. 8-16 (Season A), Sept. 22-30 (Season B) and Oct. 6-14 (Season C).

The single hunt in the northeast Kittson zone was held Sept. 8-16, and both hunters with tags shot bulls. Known as the Caribou-Vita Herd or Border Herd, elk in the northeast zone range across the border between Caribou and Vita, Man. The winter 2018 aerial survey tallied seven elk on the Minnesota side of the border, while Canadian crews flying the same day counted 126 elk in Manitoba.

The two jurisdictions manage the Caribou-Vita herd with a population goal of 150 to 200 elk. Manitoba doesn't offer a season for elk from the Caribou-Vita herd, which has a reputation for producing trophy-caliber bulls.

"Wow! bulls," Williams calls them.

"I would say any adult bull right now is just outstanding," he said.

Kittson Central results

In the Kittson Central zone, the DNR offered two either-sex licenses and five antlerless licenses for the early season, and hunters shot two bulls and five cows. A single either-sex tag and six antlerless tags were available for Season B, and six of the seven hunters were successful, shooting one bull and five antlerless elk.

Hunters shot two antlerless elk during Season C, in which the DNR issued one either-sex tag and five antlerless licenses.

Overall, Williams says the season exceeded his expectations.

"We typically see diminishing success from one season to another, and we really didn't see that in any significant way until the third season of the Lancaster hunt," Williams said. "You can expect just about 100 percent success in the A season and the Caribou-Vita season, but to see as good as what we got in the B season-six out of seven-is a little better than I expected.

"The C season was maybe about what I expected or even less, but elk are smart animals. They learn quickly where it's safe."

A total of 2,502 prospective hunters or groups of two applied for the 22 available licenses.

For the sixth consecutive year, the DNR didn't offer an elk season near Grygla, Minn., where elk populations remain below management goals. The Grygla elk herd declined to 15 in the winter 2018 aerial survey, down from 17 in 2017 and barely half the management goal of 30 to 38 elk.

Results from aerial surveys planned for later this winter will determine how many licenses the DNR offers next year in Kittson County, Williams said.

"If we're still significantly above goal, we'll have a significant elk season (near Lancaster) again," he said. "Otherwise, we'll be going back to more normal just trying to maintain the goal number. We'll really have to see."