This article was originally published on allisonrauscher.squarespace.com and has been reposted to the Huntress View website with the author's permission.
On March 13, it was announced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that in October 2018, Wisconsin would be holding its inaugural elk hunt. Never in my wildest dreams did I actually see this occurring while I was still living. I had heard whispers about it, but thought that's all it would be. This coming Fall, will be history in the making.
THEN AND NOW
For some background, over 20 years ago, before I was even born, the Department of Natural Resources began to explore the possibility of reintroducing several big game species to Wisconsin. They discovered that reintroducing moose or caribou to the area wouldn't be as successful or beneficial as an elk reintroduction. By February of 1995, 25 elk were trapped in the state of Michigan, tested, and then transported to the Clam Lake area in Wisconsin. Once there, they were held in a pen in order to get acclimated to the area, and on May 17th, 1995, they were released into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Four years later, and almost double the amount of elk, the responsibility of the new Wisconsin elk herd was given to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
The Wisconsin elk herds (that's right, herds) now occupy the Clam Lake area in Northern Wisconsin, as well as the Black River Falls area. According to the Department of Natural Resources, since the original reintroduction in 1995, that herd has increased at an average rate of 13 percent each year. The ultimate goal for the reintroduction efforts is a total of 1,790 elk throughout the state of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the two current primary causes of mortality are predation and vehicle collisions.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION
Whenever I tell people I'm on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Committee, I always get the same responses, "What is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation?" and, "I didn't even know we had elk in Wisconsin." Obviously after reading the above, you're now fully aware we do in fact, have elk in Wisconsin, but back to the first response, what is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation? What part do they play in all of this?
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation focuses on land protection, elk restoration, and habitat stewardship. A conducive habitat is essential for elk and other wildlife to remain healthy. The organization holds banquets and other fundraisers, as well as charging member fees, to raise money. That money helps fund projects to improve those habitats. This helps provide our elk and wildlife with essential forage, water, cover, and space. It also supports research and management efforts, such as transporting/reintroducing elk and collaring and tagging calves, to help maintain productive elk herds and the habitat in which they live. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also protects their ranges, migration corridors, calving grounds, and other essential areas elk need to thrive. Lastly, they focus on improving hunter access throughout elk territory because after all, hunting is conservation. They do this using land exchanges and associated acres, land and real estate donations, access agreements and easements, conservation easements, and acquisitions.
THE FIRST ELK HUNT: THE FACTS
The hunting area will be within the Clam Lake elk range of Sawyer county, Bayfield county, Ashland county, and Price county. This specific herd was projected to reach over 200 elk this year, with a high number of bulls, which is why they've decided to open up a very limited hunting season for them. The quota for this year's elk harvest was carefully selected by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Elk Advisory Committee. This includes DNR biologists, researchers, representation from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; Wisconsin Wildlife Federation; Jackson County Forest and Parks; Wisconsin Conservation Congress; U.S. Forest Service; Wisconsin Bowhunters Association; Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission; University or Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Ho-Chunk Nation. So what are the facts you should know for Wisconsin's first elk hunt?
A total of ten tags will be made available.
Only Wisconsin residents are eligible to purchase an elk tag.
Application Fee will be $10.
Applications will open May 1st, 2018 through Go WILD.
If awarded a tag, all participants will be required to complete an elk hunter education course prior to the season.
It will be a bull-only hunt.
Four of the ten tags will be awarded to Wisconsin residents through a random drawing after an application process.
An additional tag will be awarded to a Wisconsin resident through a raffle conducted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. I spoke with Wisconsin's RMEF Regional Director, Kurt Flack, and he gave me the most up to date information (subject to change) on the tag raffle information.
The raffle tickets will be $10 each and sold by volunteers and via the RMEF website (again, only to Wisconsin residents).
The drawing date has not been set yet. He predicted it will be the end of July at the earliest, and beginning of September at the latest.
The winner will be announced in some "public fashion" (at a special event or something like Facebook Live).
There will not be a limit on the amount of tickets sold.
The tag raffled will follow all of the same rules as the tags that are drawn by the DNR.
KEEP IN MIND THE MONEY YOU USE TO PURCHASE TICKETS THROUGH RMEF, GOES TOWARDS FURTHER EFFORTS TO BENEFIT OUR ELK POPULATION! I feel people forget what that money is goes to/how it's used!
Consistent with federal court rulings, the elk harvest quota is being shared with the six Wisconsin Chippewa tribes.
If awarded a tag, it may be transferred to a Wisconsin resident youth hunter, 17 years or younger.
The season will be open from October 13 -November 11, 2018 and December 13-21, 2018.
Areas where Kentucky elk were reintroduced between 2015-2017 will be off limits until further notice.
Yes, it is a very limited hunt, and yes, the chances are slim, but this is a huge small step and progress is progress. Wisconsin started over 20 years ago, with only 25 elk, and we are now over 200. I've seen calfs and elk running wild in what I feel is my own backyard. I never dreamt I would see that, and if I did, I pictured having to go west.
This coming fall will be an incredible and historic moment for Wisconsin and its elk population, and whether you draw a tag or not, we each play a vital role in helping the population thrive. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for our elk, but what I thought was in the far off future, is happening right now. It's history in the making.
*If you are interested in becoming involved with RMEF, you can sign up on their website to become a member. However, you don't need to be a member to volunteer! To volunteer with habitat improvements, research, collaring and tagging elk calfs, click here.
Allison Rauscher is a team member with Huntress View and Sportswomen United, and works with Whitetails Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Follow her on Instagram @allisonrauscher and check out her blog at https://allisonrauscher.squarespace.com/.