Going For Big Game

Youth elk hunt an adventure
for young Shelbyville hunter

Program gives budding hunters
chance of a lifetime

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (December 2010) – When 14-year-old John McKinney found out he was chosen to participate in the 2010 Kentucky Youth Elk Hunt, he was speechless. For many youth, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view these animals up close, much less kill one.

John McKinney

Photo by Helen McKinney

John McKinney, 14, of Shelbyville, Ky.,
was one of five yougsters out of 9,000
chosen to participate in this year’s
Youth Elk Hunt in Eastern Kentucky.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said McKinney. He found out he had been drawn when his father, Kent, told him to go online to the Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife website and see if name’s had been released yet. This is the second time McKinney and his twin brother, Ben, put in for the draw.
McKinney only had from mid-May until Sept. 25 to prepare for his hunt. He had to spend time learning about elk and their habits, gathering supplies, scouting the hunting area and practice shooting at targets.
He’s been in the woods hunting with his father and brother since he was 8 years old. He’s shot squirrel, deer and turkey, and said his favorite kill was white tailed deer because they are more challenging. “You have to put a lot of time, effort, preparation and patience into it,” he said.
McKinney was one of five youth drawn out of 9,000 for the Youth Elk Hunt held in eastern Kentucky. Having scouted out the area twice before the hunt, “I knew exactly where I’d be,” he said.
Of course, his chances weren’t hurt any by his guide, Tim Farmer, host of KET’s longest running hunting show, “Kentucky Afield.”
“He was a good guide and he knows the biologists in the area,” said McKinney. Farmer contacted McKinney about going along on the hunt and filming the experience for his show.
Farmer was the one who actually picked the spot where we would hunt, said McKinney. On one of their scouting excursions they saw signs of elk in the area, such as acorns and autumn olive bushes with the berries having been eaten off.
The free-ranging elk herds are located in the eastern and southeastern portions of Kentucky. Most of the elk are within the state’s 16-county Elk Restoration Zone. McKinney hunted on the Paul Van Booven Wildlife Management Area in Breathitt County, one of the original elk release sites.
Even though the Youth Hunt lasted three days, all five youth shot an elk on opening day. McKinney took down his elk around 7:15 a.m. with a Remington 30.06 using a Hornaday Superformance 180 grain bullet. The elk weighed between 700-800 pounds and was guessed to be about 3 years old.
“Tim called the elk in that morning,” he said. Farmer was probably the more excited of the pair, said McKinney.
Cow calls are used to draw the elk closer, and bugles are used to locate the elk. “During rutting season, the elk are more vocal but hard to call in when paired up with all the cows,” he said.
“The kids and their families have been universally excited about the hunt, and our staff and partners work hard to ensure the experience is a positive one,” said Kristina J. Brunjes, Ph.D, Deer and Elk Program Coordinator for the Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The restoration of elk into Kentucky officially began in December 1997. “About 1,500 elk were initially released across eight release sites from 1997 until 2002,” she said. “We estimate there are now about 10,000 elk in Kentucky.”
Biologists are constantly studying the elk. “Various university research projects have been conducted since the first elk were released and we have continuously monitored various biological parameters along with that,” said Brunjes.
The target population for elk in Kentucky is 10,000 head. Brunjes said the department is constantly working to maintain that number and “continuously working to provide additional hunting and viewing access for the public.”
Doug Hensley has been commissioner of the area, District 7, for 24 years. This volunteer position is “a labor of love for me,” he said. “This hunt is not just for fathers-sons or mothers-daughters. We want the whole family to be involved.”
Hensley wanted to seek elk return to Kentucky because “its part of our heritage.” He studied other states that had accomplished restoration and “knew Kentucky had a pretty good chance.” He sited the state as having the proper habitat for the program.
The Paul Van Booven area is on land that is leased from the University of Kentucky. “They liked the idea of the teaching aspect you’ve got there,” said Hensley. The youth had a better chance of getting an elk in this smaller, quieter area that was used for archery only. The site is on reclaimed coal mine land.
“This is the hunt of a lifetime, but the kids probably don’t realize it at the time,” Hensley said. “Elk hunting is a lot like turkey hunting on a big scale. But most Kentuckians and people from the eastern United States do not get the opportunity to elk hunt out west because it’s so expensive.”
Eastern Kentucky was chosen as an elk release site because there was not much farming around, said Hensley. “We’ve finally got something in Eastern Kentucky that nobody else has.”
McKinney plans to have his elk mounted to “remember the experience.” It was a unique experience because, “It came from Kentucky; it was one born here.”
Coming from a family that loves to hunt, “I enjoy being out in the woods,” he said, “seeing the deer, turkey and wildlife.”

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