Virginia Elk Hunters Tag Out Early

by Chris McCotter

BUCHANAN, VA —  Virginia held its first-ever managed elk hunt this fall inside the state’s Elk Management Zone, which includes all of Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise Counties located in southwest Virginia. The special season ran from Oct. 8 to Oct. 14 and was closely monitored by Virginia Department of Wildlife Management (VDWR) officials.   

After an extensive Virginia Elk Hunt Lottery, five antlered elk tags were made available to the hunting public, and were distributed through the Inaugural Virginia Elk Hunt Lottery. One was made available to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and raffled off. Both resident and non-resident hunters applied for the lottery between Feb. 1 and March 30, 2021.

Incredibly, all six hunters tagged out by mid-day on the second day of the season hunting in Buchanan County. 

The establishment of the herd and the first managed elk hunting season is a milestone in Virginia hunting history. Hunters in Virginia have been able to legally harvest elk during deer season since 2001, but this fall 2022 was the first time that the DWR held a managed elk hunt in the state.

Sadly, Virginia’s elk were hunted into extinction during the mid-19th century, and according to the DWR, “the last native elk in Virginia was harvested several years prior to the start of the civil war in 1855.” 

Over the years, Virginia has made multiple attempts to reintroduce elk. The state wildlife agency had some success in the early 1900’s and was able to establish a herd of roughly 300 individuals by 1922. But the agency cited a number of factors for the herd’s demise, and by 1970, that herd had disappeared as well.   

According to an article appearing in Outdoor Life by Dac Collins, elk restoration efforts in the southeastern U.S. didn’t ramp up again until almost 30 years later, when, in the late 1990’s, wildlife agencies in Tennessee and Kentucky started reintroducing Rocky Mountain elk in the eastern parts of these states. 

Collins wrote;  “By 2000, Kentucky’s elk population exceeded 1,500 individuals, and the state held its first managed elk hunt the following year. A portion of Kentucky’s growing elk herd had also crossed state lines and established itself in Virginia by this point in time, and in 2001, the Virginia DWR established regulations allowing hunters in the state to harvest elk of either sex during deer season.

“Tennessee held its first managed elk hunt in 2009, and by then Virginia had begun to see the value in re-establishing its own elk herd. So in 2011, the DWR established the Elk Management Zone (initially known as the Elk Restoration Area) in Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise counites, and it amended the state’s elk hunting regulations to prohibit the harvesting of elk in this tri-county area. The state agency then released 75 elk in the EMZ between 2012 and 2014, and the herd has grown to roughly 250 individuals since then, reaching a point where a carefully managed hunt was deemed permissible.”

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