Elk hunt lottery draws over 30,000 applications

Department of Wildlife Resources nets over half a million in application fees

By: - October 28, 2022 12:03 am

Elk numbers in Southwest Virginia are growing since their reintroduction. (Meaghan Thomas/ Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources)

Over 30,000 applications were submitted for Virginia’s first elk hunt lottery, generating more than half a million dollars, according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

Gray Anderson, director of the agency’s Wildlife Resources Division, said the department received 31,951 applications to participate in the inaugural Elk Management Zone hunt between Oct. 8 and 14.

Application fees, which cost $15 for Virginia residents and $20 for nonresidents for five available tags, produced about $513,000. A sixth tag was given to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which raffled it  off for more than $90,000 that will be returned to conservation efforts within the management zone. 

The zone comprises the entirety of the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise. Between 2012 and 2014, Virginia introduced 75 Rocky Mountain elk from Kentucky to the area. 

The Rocky Mountain Elk is a subspecies of the region’s previously prominent eastern elk, which was hunted to extinction in the 1800s. However, since restoration efforts began, the population has grown to more than 250 in the state, Anderson said. About 200 elk are in Buchanan County, with about 50 in Wise County and additional elk scattered across Southwestern Virginia. 

The Nature Conservancy purchased 1,100 acres in 2021 within the zone to maintain restoration efforts.

Elk can be hunted outside of the elk management zone during open deer season, but only a handful are taken in those areas because of limited numbers there, Anderson said. 

This year, Virginia awarded five tags to lottery winners to hunt the animal in the more densely populated management zone. Seventeen private landowners offered over 17,000 acres of land for use for the hunt, mostly in Buchanan County, in exchange for points toward receiving a license in the future. All the elk were taken in Buchanan County.

Anderson said the elk population in Virginia is “doing well,” with the department beginning to see some natural migration, including one elk from Tennessee. Communities in Southwest Virginia have created a tourism draw by embracing growing public interest in elk, he added.

While there have been concerns that the increased numbers of the animal could cause a problem for drivers, fewer than 10 accidents, all minor, have occurred, said Jackie Rosenberger, DWR elk projects leader. There have also been a minimal number of nuisance reports of elk walking onto properties and leaving hoofprints or getting their antlers entangled with a child’s playset.

Entangled elk were given a sedative to allow officials to free and return them to the wild, and property owners were compensated for any damage, Anderson said. No people have been injured as a result of these interactions with elk.

Despite some instances of brainworm, a disease that can disorient the animal and lead to its death, DWR isn’t worried about sustaining the population, Anderson said. The reintroduction of the animals involved a rigorous disease test and quarantine period. Instead, he said concern is more centered around the population getting too big, at which point mitigation efforts, such as hunting, could be increased. 

The creation of habitats for the elk within the zone has kept the animal within its boundaries, Rosenberger said, but also attracted previously scarce deer, turkeys and ducks to the region.

“It has been nothing but positive,” she said.

The department is following a 10-year Elk Management Plan that was adopted in 2018. Any changes to the zone will require public input when the next 10-year-plan is adopted in 2029.

CORRECTION: This story has been edited to correct the elk species, elk population numbers, the number and location of landowners participating and the Rocky Mountain raffle amount.


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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics.