Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information about the elk hunting season. 

I visited Rocky Mountain National Park, and my friends and I drove around one day at dusk with the intent of finding some of the park’s more famous animal residents. We were soon halted by a line of stopped cars, so we joined the other curious park visitors to see what was causing the traffic jam.

It was a gang of about ten elk. I turned to my left, where an enormous bull was grazing in the meadow. I was in awe. The suburbs where I grew up didn’t exactly teem with exotic creatures for animal lovers to admire.

Before the mid-nineteenth-century, elk occupied almost all of the United States until unregulated hunting wiped them out from roughly anywhere east of Nebraska. In 2000, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) attempted to introduce elk, but the discussion was tabled due to habitat concerns. The department came back better prepared the next decade and found the public was also willing to support the endeavor. They began reintroducing elk in southeast Missouri in 2011.

Despite many hurdles the elk had to overcome, they began to make a comeback. MDC recently announced it will award five permits for hunting elk this fall. It will be Missouri’s first hunting season for elk.

Peck Ranch is open sunrise to sunset every day with special exceptions. Plan your trip so you are there during the hours right after sunrise or right before sunset, the best time to see the elk. Photo courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

After my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I wanted to see elk again, so I grabbed my tent and drove three hours from St. Louis to Peck Ranch Conservation Area in Fremont where the elk were originally reintroduced. The roads wound their way through gorgeous hills.

The well-hidden conservation area maintained the same beauty that the drive showcased, and after setting up my tent, I took the self-guided loop to try and catch a glimpse of the elk. The first time around I didn’t see what I came for, but I did spot some woodpeckers and a skunk sleuthing through a clearing.

I enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Rolling hills and spacious grasslands are abundant in the 23,763-acre conservation area. I knew that my chances to see elk were best at sunset, so I made my return a bit later and found a herd of about twenty elk just inside the loop’s entrance. I rolled my car slowly to a stop and watched the sun toss its dying golden glare onto the meadow where the herd was grazing.

Even though it wasn’t mating season, the alpha male of the herd was still defensive of his harem and chased off a few younger bulls while a cow close to my car snorted, showing her indifference. A few babies stayed close to their mothers. No other people were out, and the evening breeze was calm and peaceful.


To see the elk for yourself, take the MDC’s self-guided driving tour that begins at the office at Peck Ranch Conservation Area. Two primitive campgrounds are available, and camping is also allowed in an open area outside of the park’s office. Even if you don’t see the elk on your first trip, you’ll see beautiful field and forests. Call 855-263-2355 for more information.

Peck Ranch Conservation Area • Fremont, near Winona in Shannon County • 417-256-7161 • Nature.MDC.MO.gov/discover-nature/places/peck-ranch-ca