Step right up ladies and gentlemen! For a mere ten bucks, that’s right folk, for a mere 10 U.S.A. dollars (why, that’s less than you’d pay for two pounds of ground beef) you can enter the 2022 edition of the Great Kentucky Elk Lottery! Live on the opposite end of the commonwealth from the critters? No problem! Live in Timbuktu? Visa and Mastercard accepted! Ten dollars, come one, come all.

The application period extends from Jan. 1 until April 30 each year. Last year there were 594 permits available, including 150 bull firearm, 244 cow firearm, 175 either sex archery, and 25 either-sex youth permits. KDFWR reports 95,000 entries were received for those 594 permits in 2021. Unlike deer and waterfowl quota applications that allow hunters to apply as a group, the  elk drawing requires hunters to apply individually.

This whole business started back in 1997 when the department hatched a plan to release elk into the mountains of east Kentucky. From 1997 through 2002, 1,541 elk were relocated to the restoration area from Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah. Having few natural predators in the area of the Boone National Forest and throughout the vast expanse of abandoned strip-mined coal-company lands, the elk had little to disrupt their daily routine, save for the occasional coal truck or a few hungry hillbillies. This newfound idyllic lifestyle allowed the elk the freedom to eat, breed, and grow large antlers. 

The herd grew so fast that hunting opportunities were increased dramatically during the early years, and the state became the favorite wild-elk dealership for other eastern states seeking a seat on the restoration bandwagon. The elk in east Kentucky are not native elk, however. The elk that once roamed the Kentucky mountains were the Eastern subspecies (Cervus canadensis canadensis) which was officially declared extinct in 1880, although some sources cite the existence of Eastern elk in Missouri in the 1890s. The elk we have today are of the Rocky Mountain Elk subspecies (Cervus canadensis nelsoni).

In those wonderful early days of the elk restoration, a hunter fortunate enough or connected enough to draw a tag in the lottery was all but assured of a record-book quality bull on public land for little more than gas money. It was too good to last, however. Within a year or two,  hunters who drew a coveted bull tag started reporting locked gates and limited access to public hunting areas. As applications soared, there were people who defied the ever-increasing odds by drawing a tag in consecutive years, sometimes several consecutive years. Even as new areas were added to the restoration zone, the number of tags available through the lottery began to fall. A deal was struck with big landowners and coal companies who would receive one transferrable elk tag per year for every 5,000 acres they enrolled in the project. The resource shifted away from the run-of-the-mill Kentucky hunter and began to favor big money. Yes, you can still enter the elk lottery for a 10-dollar bill and, if drawn, plunk down another hundred for a resident bull permit. Then you can embark on a do-it-yourself hunt on public property, sleep in your truck, eat bennie-weenies, and commune with nature for pocket change. You may or may not find elk, however. What you will find are thousands of acres under lease to outfitters who charge from $5,000 to $20,000 for 3 or 5 day guided hunts, and a lot of dubious characters trying to convince you that the public hunting ground you are standing on somehow belongs to them. 

If you don’t get drawn or just want to bypass the whole lottery thing, the department doles out up to 10 special tags each year to non-profit organizations for their fund-raising purposes. These tags are typically offered at auction by the organizations and sell for big money, many of which are purchased by outfitters and resold for bigger money. Remember the landowners who receive elk tags for allowing the department to grow elk on their property? You can buy a tag from them, too. They are not shy about demanding $20,000 or more for a tag, however. Just so you know, before you drop your last 10-spot in the department’s slot machine, this lunch ain’t free anymore. 

Kentucky’s deer season will end at sundown next Monday, Jan. 17. From then on, it’s see you in September. Tennessee ended their deer season last Sunday. Duck season will run through Jan. 31 in Kentucky, Jan. 30 in Tennessee. In Illinois and Missouri, only the south waterfowl zones are open. The Illinois South Zone remains open through Jan. 25 and Missouri’s South Zone through Jan. 31. Be aware of the zone boundaries in these states, especially in Missouri, where the Central Zone extends below the South Zone in some areas. 

As I predicted last week, waterfowl hunters received a late Christmas present in the form of a cold front that brought snow and a lot of ducks to our area. The sudden success has also sent waterfowl hunters scurrying about in search of steel or non-toxic shotgun ammunition, the supplies of which have been extremely tight. Manufacturers are cranking out ammo as fast as they can, but are still facing a tremendous backlog of orders. On top of that, your local ammo dealers are having to deal with some of their suppliers rerouting shipments to other clients for a premium. Bottom line on waterfowl ammo is get it where ever you can find it. 

The recent rains and melting snow have caused the big rivers to ease out of their banks. This is a good thing for waterfowl hunters unless they had planned on hunting the Ballard or Boatwright WMAs. Ballard WMA is now closed until further notice due to the flooding. Hunters who were drawn for the waterfowl quota hunts will receive a refund of their preference points. Boatwright WMA has suspended online hunting applications this week, but are conducting daily in-person drawings for sites. All the sites in the Boatwright WMA now require boat access. 

Most waterfowlers have duck boats and are experienced in the proper use thereof. As a matter of fact, hunting from a boat is an integral part of duck hunting on the big lakes and rivers. Several years ago, at an informational meeting between waterfowl hunters and Department personnel, the question was asked as to why the Ballard WMA would be closed to boat access during periods of high water. The reply from one of the refuge managers at that time left the room in stunned silence. He answered that they just couldn’t have a bunch of duck hunters running around out there in the backwater in boats. I’m guessing he thought the idea of duck hunting from a boat sounded unsafe, but then you never know. All you duck hunters, let’s be safe out there!