By: Allison Rauscher
Photos Taken By: Allison Rauscher & Bradley Brossard
Disclaimer: I do not have all the answers as far as the wolf, bear, elk, and whitetail numbers go and how the predators effect the populations in the state of Wisconsin. I'm still educating myself!
Throughout the years, I've done volunteer work of all kinds. If there's something I want to get involved with, it's difficult to slow me down from doing so. Any volunteer work I have ever done, has been extremely rewarding. For example, I wouldn't be on the career path I'm on now, if it hadn't been for my volunteer work at a Children's Hospital.
For the last year or so, I had been eyeing the The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation webpage, researching RMEF and the elk population in Wisconsin. I've known that Wisconsin has had a small elk population for quite sometime, although, it's growth has been slow moving. In May, I reached out to several people from RMEF in Wisconsin, sending an email introducing myself, explaining how that, although I wasn't a member of RMEF yet , I wanted to volunteer. I have been involved with Whitetails Unlimited for as long as I can remember, and was intrigued by The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and their presence in Wisconsin. It wasn't long until I started receiving a flood of emails, welcoming me, telling me about different ways I could be involved, volunteer opportunities, being a part of my chapter committee, etc. The soonest opportunity I was given to volunteer, was when Steven Meurett from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources emailed me about an opportunity to volunteer to help search for Elk Calfs in an effort to collar and tag them for further research. Being a girl that loves fluffy baby animals that I can interact with, I obviously squealed with excitement! I had never seen an Elk in the wild let alone, a calf! The more I thought about it, the more important it became. Although the population is small yet, to think a group of people could potentially have such a huge effect in helping a population of Elk thrive in my home state, was such a crazy thought. I thought about how my(and others) involvement would effect the population and how large it could be when I have children, and when my children have children, and how amazing it would be for them to see Elk regularly in the wild here in Wisconsin.
The weekend of the search came and I had made the plan to wake up bright and early on Friday to make the drive to Black River Falls, Wisconsin to meet up with the group, and after the search, I would spend the weekend camping. That morning, I felt the same jittery feeling I get on opening weekend of bow season. My hopes were extremely high for finding a calf. Upon arrival, we huddled up and a biologist for the DNR, Scott Roepke, gave us the game plan of where we were going, what the plan was, and what we would be doing when and if we found a calf. I hadn't even thought about the "if" part. We started our search on a farm in the Oakdale, Wisconsin area. The DNR had been keeping their eyes on a cow there that according to her tracking device, hadn't moved much in several days. Scott was the first to walk into the area where she was located. The point of this was to get eyes on her to see if she still looked as if she was pregnant or not without an entire group of people to scare her off. After what felt like the longest wait, Scott gave us the "go ahead" to walk in. When we met up with him, he explained how he thought the cow had given birth and that the calf would be in a specific wooded area. He then instructed us to line up and that we would have "anchors" to which we had to keep a certain distance and pace. We searched the area with six or seven sweeps of the area, with no luck finding a calf. I was sweaty, thirsty, and covered in ticks by the time we called it quits. Luckily, they expressed that there was another cow further north that they wanted to look into but that they weren't entirely confident we would find one. I would be lying if I said my heart didn't sink a little in that moment.
Our next search took us to Wazee Lake County Park, where we went through the same "hurry up and wait" scenario. Scott went in to get eyes on the cow while the group stayed back, and in the meantime I took a quick power nap. Before we knew it, he summoned us in. We walked off a path and into a chunk of pines to begin our search. We once again lined up, and began walking. I had come to terms with the fact we might not find any calfs this time, but within 10 minutes, Steven Meurett, who was next to me, spotted something lying on a hillside in some tall grass. We quietly flagged the group down to head towards us and circle around the animal. As I got closer and was able to get my eyes on it, a rush came over me. Staring at its big and beautiful black eyes, I realized I was looking at the first Elk calf I had ever seen. The fact that I was seeing this for the first time, and in my own backyard, was an incredibly heartwarming feeling that may or may not have made my eyes tear up. My mind immediately went to thinking how amazing it would be to see her calfs someday.
We slowly and quietly surrounded her, unsure if she would try to get up and run. She laid there quietly and we were able to walk up to put a hood over her eyes to help her remain calm and keep her relaxed. From there, the guys from the DNR went through the motions of filling out paperwork, checking the gender, weighing her, placing a collar on her, tagging her ears, placing a chip, checking how old she was, and collecting general data. She was tagged as "Calf 304." Meanwhile, I sat there in awe taking picture after picture. They determined she had been born the night before, which was strangely wonderful realizing she was probably only 12 hours old and that we were there moments later. After all was said and done, Scott placed her in a more hidden spot not far from where we found her. Mom would be able to find her, but she would be hidden from anyone else that might have walked through the area, since we didn't find her far off of a paved trail.
We headed back to the trucks to end our day and I was on cloud nine grinning from ear to ear. Scott explained to us that she was tagged as "Calf 304" and that he typically lets kids give the Elk a name. Obviously, being a 26 year old grown woman, I wanted to name her! He also expressed that we would be able to follow up with her and track her progress which I had every intention of doing. The guys from the DNR thanked us for our time and said we would be updated on when upcoming searches were taking place. After several hours of deliberation, I decided to name Calf 304, Moose because I loved the thought of talking about “the Elk named Moose!” There was no question that I wanted to return for more searches in the future, and I did! Weeks later I even brought fellow Sportswomen United and Huntress View team member, Savannah Halstead along! On my second search, we were not lucky enough to find a calf, however, we got to see our first Wisconsin cow run a hillside and continue to bark at us, which I still chalked up as a win! The guys noted that the barking was a good sign that a calf was in the area, however, the search area was so thick, it was difficult to cover all the ground.
I recently caught up with Scott Roepke to check in on Moose, and he told me she is alive and well! He also said that they had collared 7 out of 9 of the calves located. They are aware of several more that were born but were unable to collar them. He estimated that there are currently 13-14 calves in total and said all 7 collared calves are alive. They are still hopeful a few more calves will be born and that they will be able to collar them. Later in the summer, he said some cows could have still been pregnant!
During my time on these trips, I realized just how many ways we as outdoorsman can do our part in conservation. Whether you're paying for a tag, helping with research, or getting your hands dirty to help maintain a habitat, it's all important and essential. I gave up maybe 12 hours of my entire year to help search for calfs to tag and collar in order to track them for hopefully years to come. Going forward, I intend to do more searches, donate my time to help create better Elk habitats, and work with my chapter committee to help raise money at events. I highly recommend everyone get involved and find an organization you're passionate about to help our wildlife and protect our lands for future generations to enjoy!