Editor’s Note: I love to hear the call of the sirens like the Greeks of old, even if the sirens aren’t scantily-clad beautiful mermaids but instead have big, heavy, massive antlers and thick, brown coats. Today elk – majestic animals once thought to be only in the West – have
returned home to the East. One source of good news in this COVID world is that elk weighing 800 pounds, standing 5 feet tall at the shoulder and having a length of 8 feet have come home once again to some eastern states. Today you can hear the mystical, melodic, piercing, high-pitched bull elk bugles in some of their historical habitat. Thanks to the efforts of state departments of conservation, interested landowners and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (https://www.rmef.org/), 11 eastern states, including: Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia and Arkansas, have had their elk restocked, and the herds are thriving. Several states even offer limited hunting opportunities for elk. Prior to European settlement, more than 10-million elk roamed nearly all of the U.S. and parts of Canada. Today that number totals about 1 million. By the 1840s to the
1870s, most of the elk east of the Mississippi River had been killed for food and hides that could be sold for other essentials by frontier settlers. For many years, finding, seeing or hearing an elk in the East was impossible.
- Pennsylvania: In 2001, Pennsylvania held its first modern elk hunt with more than 50,000 people applying for 30 tags. The state was the last place where elk lived east of the Mississippi River, and by 1867 all the elk were gone. Fifty elk arrived by railway from the Yellowstone
- Virginia: Like other eastern states, Virginia’s elk disappeared by the 1880s. Then in 1993, RMEF and partners in the state completed 79 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects of about $1.9 million to protect and enhance 1,319 acres of habitat. During 2012 – 2014, 250 elk and 75 other elk were successfully reintroduced to the state by the DWR National Park in 1913 and went to a section of the Allegheny River where they struggled for 70 years against farmers, hunters and shrinking habitat. The Pennsylvania Game Commission improved forage for elk on itspublic lands, beginning in 1976, and the RMEF contributed monies to buy more land for the elk. In 2018, the elk numbered 1,000 (https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/Elk/Pages/default.aspx).
- Tennessee: Elk no longer lived in the state’s oak and hickory trees by the 1800s, but since 2000, elk have been released in various places around the state by the Tennessee Conservation League and the RMEF. In 2000, 50 elk were introduced into the Royal Blue WMA, and then since 2000, an additional 150 elk have been released, with the state now homing more than 400 elk. These two groups have purchased other lands for elk. The first elk hunt was held in 2009, and according to a survey conducted by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, more than 75 percent of Tennessee residents like having elk around and hope to see them (https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/mammals/large/elk.html). (https://wvdnr.gov/plants-animals/elk/).
To learn more about elk hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “How to Find Your Elk and Get Him in Close,” available in Kindle, print and Audible versions at http://amzn.to/17ENNqK. You may have to copy and paste this click into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon allows you to read and hear 10% of the book for free). On the right side of the page and below the offer for a free Audible trial, you can click on Buy the Audible with one click.
Tomorrow: Elk Today – West Virginia & Wisconsin