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DNR offering 17 elk licenses in Kittson County this year

The DNR decision to reduce licenses in Zone 20 was based on several factors, including anticipation the Red Lake Nation would increase tags for their tribal hunt in the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty area.

Elk photo
A herd of elk stands watch at Skull Lake Wildlife Management Area in Kittson County in this April 2005 photo.
Contributed/ Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

ST. PAUL – The Department of Natural Resources is offering 17 elk licenses in Kittson County of northwest Minnesota this year – down from 30 in 2022 – and the deadline to apply is Friday, June 16, the agency said Monday, May 22.

Seasons will run from early September to mid-October, and hunters applying for a license can choose from two options. One license is for an antlerless elk, which can be a female or a young male, and the other license option is for either a bull or antlerless elk.

There are two either-sex and two antlerless tags available in Zone 20 – the “Kittson Central herd” – for each of three seasons: Season A, Sept. 9-17; Season B, Sept. 23-Oct. 1; and Season C, Oct. 7-15.

The DNR offered 28 elk tags – eight either-sex and 20 antlerless-only – in Zone 20, and 15 hunters filled their tags for an overall success rate of 54%. By comparison, the overall success rate last year in Zone 20 was 82%.

By comparison, the DNR last year offered 28 tags – eight either-sex and 20 antlerless only – during four seasons in Zone 20, and 15 hunters filled their tags for an overall success rate of 54%. Hunter success in 2021 was 82% for Zone 20, which includes the Lancaster area of central Kittson County.

In Zone 30 of northeastern Kittson County, where the so-called “Caribou-Vita” herd ranges between Minnesota and Manitoba, five either-sex tags are available this fall: three for Season G, Sept. 9-17; and two for Season H, Sept. 23-Oct. 1.


The DNR offered two tags for Zone 30 in 2022, and both hunters drawing licenses shot bulls.

Blane Klemek.jpg
Blane Klemek, acting Northwest Region wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.
Contributed / Blane Klemek

According to Blane Klemek, Northwest Region wildlife manager for the DNR in Bemidji, the decision to reduce licenses in Zone 20 was based on several factors, including anticipation of the Red Lake Nation’s plans to increase available tags for their tribal hunt in the area covered by the Old Crossing Treaty signed with the U.S. government Oct. 2, 1863.

The Pembina and Red Lake bands of Ojibwe ceded some 11 million acres of land in the Red River Valley to the U.S. government under the treaty.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa offered five licenses by lottery during last fall’s inaugural season and last month announced that they would offer 30 licenses for this fall's hunting season on 1863 Treaty lands.

As part of its strategic management plan for elk, the DNR is mandated to manage the Kittson Central herd at a population level not to exceed 50 to 60 elk. The DNR counted 75 elk in the Kittson Central herd during its winter aerial survey, down from 84 during the 2022 survey and a high of 102 elk in the 2020 survey. The DNR didn’t fly the survey in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MN Elk Survey.JPG
Northwest Minnesota elk survey blocks. The DNR this past winter also flew the Manitoba side of the border to sample the Caribou-Vita elk herd as part of an agreement with the Canadian province.
Contributed/Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Expanded boundary

New this season, the DNR expanded the boundaries of Elk Zone 20 near Lancaster to better encompass the areas where elk have been seen during recent hunting seasons. The zone expanded by about 6 miles to the west and 3 miles to the south.

Elk Zone Map by inforumdocs on Scribd

The DNR decided to issue three more tags in Zone 30, the “Caribou-Vita” herd, for a couple of reasons, Klemek said. As part of an agreement with Manitoba, the DNR flew the Canadian portion of the survey area this past winter, as well, and counted a total of 227 elk.


In addition, Klemek said, landowners wanted the DNR to increase tags in Zone 30 to improve their odds of drawing a tag. Eligible landowners are allotted 20% of the tags, Klemek said, but not when only two tags are available, as was the case in 2022.

With five tags available this year, the DNR can allocate 20% to eligible landowners, he said.

“We acknowledged that the herd could support more harvest, given that we now have a much better handle on the number of elk on both the Minnesota and Manitoba sides of the border,” Klemek said.

The DNR counted 96 elk from the Caribou-Vita herd on the Minnesota side of the border and 131 in Manitoba this past winter, preliminary DNR statistics show. Numbers can vary wildly, depending on which side of the border the herd is using. In 2017, for example, the DNR only counted one elk in Zone 30, compared with 163 in Manitoba.

Before this past winter, the DNR hadn’t flown the Caribou-Vita survey block since 2018. Management agencies on both sides of the border must fly the survey to get accurate numbers.

Meanwhile, the DNR this past winter counted 29 elk in the Grygla herd survey block, a 10-year high unchanged from 2022, but still below the management goal of 30 to 38 elk that would be required to hold a season.

With the changes in Kittson County elk zone boundaries, it’s important that hunters review the elk season structure on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/hunting/elk before entering the lottery to ensure they apply for the license they want.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an update with additional information to a story that initially appeared online Monday afternoon May 22, 2023.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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