A Mount Vernon man successfully harvested an elk this past weekend, making this the first-ever harvested since the cervids were reintroduced to Missouri nearly a decade ago.

A Mount Vernon man successfully harvested an elk this past weekend, making this the first-ever harvested since the cervids were reintroduced to the state nearly a decade ago.

Joseph Benthall was one of five permit holders for this elk hunting season, said Aaron Hildreth, elk specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Only five bull elk could be taken. Following an unsuccessful archery season in October, the five hunters entered the rifle portion of the elk season.

“Those same hunters had the opportunity to go back out and fulfill their tags,” Hildreth said about the firearms portion opening Dec. 12.

Just before the hunting day wrapped up Saturday, Benthall spotted an elk on public land in Shannon County, Hildreth said.

“He became the first Missouri hunter to harvest an elk in the history of having a hunting season,” Hildreth said.

Although an exact weight is unknown, Hildreth estimated that the two-and-a-half-year-old bull was in the 600-pound range.

“It’ll probably end up yielding between 200 to 250 pounds of meat,” he said. “It’ll be a substantial amount of meat.”

Elk are a native species in Missouri but were hunted to extinction in the state through unregulated hunting during the late 1800s, according to MDC. About 100 elk were reintroduced to the Ozarks starting in 2011. Most were cows with some calves and immature bulls. Their numbers have more than doubled since then. MDC hopes to reach a target population of 500 elk and will use hunting to manage herd size and location.

The process has finally come full circle, Hildreth said.

“It’s a testament to the conservation work that has gone on in the state and it’s a testament to Missourians and their strong dedication to conservation,” Hildreth said.

“Conservation does not always have to be about hunting or the harvest of an animal, but, in this case, the harvesting of this bull is really a significant milestone because we’ve been able to go from basically not having elk in Missouri for over 150 years to now we have a population that is sustainable and can deal with regulated hunting,” he continued.

The firearms portion lasts until Sunday, Dec. 20, so the permit-holders have additional opportunities to harvest elk.

“The first-ever elk season will wrap up, and so there will be no more hunting of elk until likely sometime in 2021,” Hildreth said.

MDC will present permit quota recommendations to the Missouri Conservation Commission in the spring and, if approved, hunters may apply for a permit afterward.

“The season structure would be the same where we have an archery portion in October and a firearms portion in December for however many permit-holders there are,” Hildreth said.

Sara Karnes is an outdoors reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Email her at skarnes@springfi.gannett.com