Ontario elk boom prompts historic hunt

Farmers and hunters are at odds over an elk hunt that began Monday in Bancroft, Ont. — the first since elk were reintroduced to the province a decade ago.
A decade after they were reintroduced into Ontario, elk are thriving in central Ontario 3:19

Farmers and hunters are at odds over an elk hunt that began Monday in Bancroft, Ont. — the first since elk were reintroduced to the province a decade ago.

The hunt began Monday from the community about 200 kilometres west of Ottawa, with 70 hunters on the prowl. They were chosen out of a pool of 5,000 who applied.

The historic hunt comes in part as an effort to slow population growth in the area.

Historic elk hunt

Watch CBC Ottawa at 6 p.m. for more from reporter Evan Dyer on Ontario's elk hunt.

Elk are the second major species to be reintroduced in Ontario after going extinct. Wild turkeys, which are now thriving all across the province, were the first.

But ever since the elk were placed in the small Ontario community, their numbers have grown exponentially. Many of the elk have become used to humans and have lost the shyness of other wild animals like deer and moose.

For farmers, this has meant the elk, which tend to travel in larger groups, are moving through farmland and eating crops.

"It's like having a herd of 40 or 50 Angus steers in your best crop every night," said farmer Elson Ruddy.

"They'll show up at 11 o'clock and they're gone by four in the morning, night time thieves."

Brian Muir acknowledges an elk looking for food as he is being interviewed by CBC News. Elk often walk on to his rural Bancroft, Ont., property looking for apples. (CBC)

Elk more difficult to hunt

Brian Muir has elk on his property on a daily basis. The Bancroft man, who hunts both deer and moose, said he believe the elk hunt will be more difficult because the animal is so domesticated.

Muir showed CBC News exactly what he meant when an elk walked up right behind him while being interviewed.

Stephen Huntley, one of the hunters to receive a tag, helped to bring the elk to the province and is excited by the rare opportunity.

"It's the first elk tag in Ontario in a hundred years," said Huntley, who feels he is getting his just reward after helping to bring a trailer full of elk to the area 11 years ago.

Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) said it always their intention to bring the population of the elk to a point where it could be hunted.

However, one biologist said the growth was completely unexpected.

"In recent years, we've seen in excess of 20 per cent growth rate and the herd is now at the point where we are indeed using hunting as a management tool to maintain it at those levels," said Erin MacDonald, who works with the MNR.

Farmers such as Ruddy said they believe the 70 hunters will not have a large effect on the population. But biologists argue the hunt should help keep the population healthy.