From the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife
-- The quota firearms hunt for cow elk opens Dec. 11 in southeastern Kentucky's 16-county elk zone.
"While our bull elk season is timed to coincide with the rut, cow season starts after the breeding ends, when cows congregate in large herds," said Tina Brunjes, deer and elk program coordinator. "In large herds, elk are more visible and more likely to stay out in the open."
Six hundred quota hunt cow permits have been issued for the two week-long seasons Dec.11 to 17 and Dec. 18 to 24.
Elk hunters with a permit receive an assignment to one of 10 areas in the elk restoration zone. The 4.1 million-acre elk zone includes nearly 580,000 acres open to public hunting.
Last season hunters took 502 cows or 65 percent of the 778 elk taken during the 2009-10 season.
"Success on antlerless elk, which includes cows and bull calves, was 75 percent for those who hunted," Brunjes said.
Hunters with cow permits can also hunt with archery gear after the firearm hunts end. The season bag limit is one elk.
Kentucky's elk herd has a target population of 10,000. Today's elk herd is the result of a five-year stocking program that began in 1997. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife brought in 1,556 elk from Kansas, Utah, North Dakota, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico to form the nucleus of the herd.
Elk are now thriving in Kentucky. A high percentage of cows reproduce, and the survival rate of calves tops 90 percent.
"Cows normally don't breed until they are mature at two and a half years," said Brunjes. "Cows have a single calf, born in May."
Elk also thrive in Kentucky because of the absence of predators, the relatively mild winters and abundant food sources, which create excellent body condition for animals and remarkable population growth. Kentucky elk grow 15 percent larger and develop larger antlers at an earlier age than elk living in western states. A mature cow in Kentucky can weigh more than 500 pounds.
Winter elk herds segregate themselves by sex. In groups of cows, there's always a lead cow, just as there are herd bulls dominant over other bulls. Cows can live for more than 10 years.
Hunters may encounter some of these older cows with ear tags.
"We still have some elk in our herds from the original stockings or research animals that were ear tagged," Brunjes explained. "We'd like to know when and where a hunter takes an elk with an ear tag. We'll provide hunters with the details of the elk's time here in Kentucky."
To report an ear-tagged elk, call (800)858-1549 Monday through Friday or report by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include the hunter's name, telephone number, ear tag number and the EHU (Elk Hunt Unit) where the elk was taken.