SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — She saw the antlers and a big brown body in the bushes.
And with one shot from her rifle Saturday, Abby Wilson, 14, killed what she thought was a very large white-tailed buck.
It wasn't. It was an elk.
"She called her dad, who was hunting nearby, and her dad realized it was an elk," said Tom Strother, protection regional supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "The dad called our agent in Boone County, Adam Doerhoff, and said, 'We think we just shot an elk.'"
Doerhoff said he was surprised to get that call and thought it probably wasn't an elk, noting that animal misidentifications are very common.
"The dad sent me a photo to my phone and it was very clear that, yes, that's an elk," Doerhoff said. "You don't expect to see something like that. I've learned to never say never."
Missouri has no hunting season for elk, though MDC is growing a herd in southeast Missouri after reintroducing elk to their native habitat at Peck Ranch Conservation Area in 2011.
Strother said the elk that Abby shot was more than 200 miles away from that Peck Ranch herd, in an area between Hallsville and Centralia. It took five men to load the elk into a truck, where MDC is doing a number of tests on the carcass.
They're looking for signs of Chronic Wasting Disease, which elk have been known to carry, and a DNA test that might tell them where the elk came from.
"Our elk biologist wants some parts to figure out where it may have come from," Strother said. "There are no reports of elk in this area. It was kind of a surprise to us. There was no evidence of any ear tags or collars on this one."
Strother said there is a ranch that has captive elk near Colombia on the west side of Boone County, but MDC has had no reports of any of those animals escaping.