Going for big game

Elk hunt provides opportunity
of a lifetime for area hunters

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

MILTON, Ky. (November 2007) – Robert Stewart says the opportunity to hunt elk in Eastern Kentucky is “mind-boggling.” Being able to hunt an animal for the first time in 150 years provides the chance of a lifetime for Stewart, he said.
Stewart was one of 300 individuals drawn at random by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to hunt in a Zone At-Large or Limited Entry Area. Nearly 10,000 applied for the lottery. To apply, Stewart had to put in a $10 Elk Lottery Application.

Robert Stewart

Photo by Don Ward

Robert Stewart’s name finally was
drawn for Kentucky’s elk hunt after
several tries in past years.

“I put in for the draw every year,” said Stewart, 48, who lives in Milton, Ky.
On Dec. 8, Stewart will travel to Harlan County, Ky., in the hopes of snagging a trophy cow elk.
If hunting in the At-Large area, hunters can go anywhere within a 16-county area. The number of elk quota permits issued has increased from the 200 issued in 2006.
Although hunters cannot choose the area in which they wish to hunt, Stewart has a friend who owns property in Harlan County. Most of the zones lie in reclaimed coal mines. Kentucky’s quota firearms elk hunts take place in October and December.
Stewart plans to scout the area with a bow, and then use a high-powered 300 Win mag rifle for the actual hunt. Accompanying him will be his father, Robert, and son, Jordan.
This hunt will be a sentimental trip for Stewart, whose family has a long-standing tradition of hunting. For the last 18 years, this outdoorsman has hunted in Colorado and fished all over the Rocky Mountains.
“I’m more of a bow hunter,” said Stewart. Applicants were assigned to hunt either a bull or cow elk and are required to have an annual Kentucky hunting license by the hunt date and an elk quota hunt permit.
The Elk Restoration Project began in the winter of 1997-1998. Biologists estimate that Eastern Kentucky is home to 6,500 free-ranging elk, the largest herd east of the Mississippi River.
Hunters were first drawn to hunt in 2001. As the elk population has grown, the amount of public land available to hunt the elk has increased as well.
In 2004, Rita Tharp of Bedford, Ky., bagged a record-breaking elk at the Starfire Mine Limited Entry Area site in Knott County. She shot a 6x6 elk whose antlers scored 309 and three-eighths in the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system. This system is based on the length, symmetry and mass of the antlers.
Tharp has hunted for the last 15 years. The thing she liked best about the elk hunt was that she was able “to enjoy it with friends. I was very lucky to get drawn. I had never hunted outside of Trimble County before.”
“It was such an opportunity that was not there until 10 years ago,” said Tharp. She credits the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for such a successful program.
Tharp compares elk hunting to a cross between turkey and deer hunting. “Bulls are called in like a turkey,” said Tharp. She added that she was not as successful at calling in deer as she was elk.
Cow elk go where there is feed, said Stewart. Elk graze like cows, he said, while deer are more akin to the goat family and prefer roughage to eat. An elk’s eyesight is not as good as that of a deer.
Officials at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife “want you to succeed,” said Tharp. Their goal is to give out 1,500 tags, said Tharp. This would greatly increase chances for hunters to get an elk.
Other hunters from the region drawn for this year’s elk hunt are Dylan Chisholm of La Grange, Ray Combs of Turners Station, John Doll and James McClintock, both of Crestwood.

• For more information on the Elk Restoration Project, visit: www.fw.ky.gov.

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