In a groundbreaking success story, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is holding its first managed elk hunt this year.
Wisconsin's first managed elk hunt comes 23 years after the state acquired 25 from elk from Michigan back in 1995, and more than a century after their disappearance.
The elk herds have been growing slowly but surely in the intervening years, despite predation from wolves and bears. Wisconsin DNR also recently developed an elk importation plan with Kentucky. The project will add an additional minimum of 150 animals to bolster the herds over the next three to five years.
The hunt will take place only in the Clam Lake area, one of two locations that elk herds currently inhabit in Wisconsin. The other herd in Jackson County will be off limits to hunters.
There are 183-190 elk that make up the Clam Lake population, including 54-58 breeding-age cows. This spring, the agency expects around 45 calves to be born, effectively raising the herd number to around 230 animals, well past the 200-population threshold DNR requires to initiate a hunt.
"The hunt is an indication the herd is doing well," said Kevin Wallenfang, a DNR deer and elk ecologist. "It can safely absorb the harvest of 10 bulls, you bet."
The DNR released a video of Wallenfang explaining the hunt and the conservation success story that led to it:
The Clam Lake elk herd contains around 70 bulls. Many of those bulls sport large 6x6 racks, making for attractive hunter trophies.
Wallenfang also specifically mentioned one big 18-year-old bull.
"That is a big, nasty bull," he said. "It has killed a couple other bulls that we know of."
Guidelines for the hunt
The DNR website indicates that the elk hunting season will adhere to the following tenets:
- Season will be open from Oct. 13-Nov. 11 and Dec. 13-21.
- Hunters can only harvest bull elk.
- Areas where Kentucky elk were released between 2015-17 will be off limits to hunting until the population increases to levels identified in the elk management plan.
- Only Wisconsin residents are eligible to receive a harvest tag.
- Application fee will be $10 and the application period is anticipated to be May 1-31. The license fee will be $49.
- The application and license fees are earmarked for elk management and research in Wisconsin.
"(The hunt) will not take place in areas where Kentucky elk were recently introduced," the site also states. "Four tags will be awarded to Wisconsin residents through a random drawing. One additional tag will be awarded to a Wisconsin resident through a raffle conducted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Similar to other hunted species in northern Wisconsin, five tags will be allotted for harvest by the Ojibwe tribes. Interested hunters can apply, however only Wisconsin residents are eligible to purchase an elk tag."
Lottery applications will begin May 1. Interested parties can access and apply on the DNR's GoWild website.
Like all American North American Model of Conservation success stories, part of the money received from hunters will go back into the elk program. Wisconsin elk management will receive $7 of every $10. The money will go towards improving habitat, research, herd monitoring and health testing.
"We're hopeful the proceeds will help our elk program continue to be successful for many, many years to come," Wallenfang said.
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