Opportunities available to hunt elk in Minnesota

May 17, 2021

License applications available now

Interested hunters have through Friday, June 18, to apply for one of 30 elk licenses offered this year by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Seasons will run from late August to mid-October.

This year’s seasons are similar to last year’s, which provided hunters with more opportunities to harvest antlerless elk. Hunters can choose from three license options: a license for a bull elk; a license for an antlerless elk, which can be a female or a young male; or a license for either a bull or antlerless elk.

The dates for the 2021 Minnesota elk season are:

  • Saturday, Aug. 28, to Sunday, Sept. 5: Five antlerless tags and two either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (zone 20) zone.
  • Saturday, Sept. 11, to Sunday, Sept. 19: Five antlerless tags and two either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (zone 20) zone and two bull-only tags will be available in the Kittson northeast (zone 30) zone.
  • Saturday, Sept. 25, to Sunday, Oct. 3: Five antlerless tags and two either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (zone 20) zone.
  • Saturday, Oct. 9, to Sunday, Oct. 17: Five antlerless tags and two either-sex tags will be available in the Kittson central (zone 20) zone.

The DNR uses hunting as the main tool to manage elk populations, with focused harvest of female elk aimed at keeping populations within goal range.

Minnesota’s elk herds
There are currently three recognized herds in northwestern Minnesota: Grygla, Kittson Central, and Kittson Northeast, which is also referred to as Caribou-Vita. As a result of COVID-19 precautions and social distancing requirements, the DNR did not conduct its annual aerial elk surveys this year.

Instead, population estimates developed from field and modeling data were used to identify a level of harvest for this year’s season that is consistent with our elk management goals.  The licenses available for 2021 support continued population reduction. The available licenses were decreased relative to 2020.

During February 2020, the DNR counted 126 elk in most of the state’s elk range in Kittson, Marshall and Beltrami counties. The Grygla and Kittson Central herd counts were 24 and 102 elk, respectively. The Caribou-Vita herd was last surveyed in 2018.

The Grygla and the Caribou-Vita herds remain below goal, which is why the Grygla area elk zone remains closed to hunting and minimal permits (two bull-only licenses) are available for the Caribou-Vita zone. The limited bulls-only season is held to keep the Caribou-Vita herd wary of human presence and development.

The Kittson Central herd is predicted to be above goal, providing the majority of this year’s hunting opportunities. Minnesota’s elk management plan sets a population goal range for each of the three herds.

Applying for a license

It is important that hunters review the elk season structure on the DNR website prior to entering the lottery to ensure they apply for the license they want. Five licenses are reserved for applicants who have unsuccessfully applied for at least 10 years and five licenses are reserved for individuals who meet landowner requirements.

Hunters must select the type of elk license they are applying for: bull-only (two licenses available), either-sex (eight licenses available) or antlerless-only (20 licenses available), in addition to the zone and season. Hunters may apply individually or in parties of two online or by telephone 888-665-4236. There is a nonrefundable application fee of $5 per hunter.

Successful hunters will need to present their animal within 24 hours of harvest for registration and collection of biological samples to screen for diseases or other health-related issues.

More information is available on the DNR’s elk hunting page. For more on Minnesota’s elk, visit the DNR’s elk management page.