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The Eastern Elk Revolution Personifies that Hunting is Conservation

Ten years after the successful restoration of elk to their historic Virginia range, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is accepting applications for its first elk hunting season through March 30, 2022. 

bull elk RMEF
Elk photo courtesy of Virginia DWR

“Instituting the first-ever managed elk hunt a mere decade after restoration is an indicator that the state’s elk herd is growing, sustainable and healthy. In short, it marks a conservation milestone for Virginia,” said Mark Baker of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF).  

In addition to providing both funding and volunteer support that led to Virginia’s initial elk restoration in 2012, RMEF, with perhaps the best tagline in the business – Hunting is Conservation – also made key contributions to successful restorations in Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Dating back to 1990, RMEF and its partners completed 1,299 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in the above-mentioned states that conserved 146,467 acres of elk habitat.

Virginia DWR logo“As in the past, we remain committed as an organization going forward to working alongside our state agency partners in supporting and growing elk populations throughout the East and across the country including here in my home state of Virginia,” said Todd Walker, RMEF board member from McLean.

Below is a brief synopsis, with restoration years in parenthesis, of the current status of elk in each of the eastern United States: 

  • Kentucky (1997); +10,000 elk and the largest population east of the Mississippi River. The first elk hunting season in Kentucky occurred in 2001 and there were 594 tags available in 2022
  • Missouri (2011); +200 elk with five tags available in 2022
  • North Carolina (2001); +200 elk with no hunting season as yet established
  • Tennessee (1997); +400 elk. The first hunting season occurred in 2009 and there were 15 tags available for 2022
  • Virginia (2012); + 250 elk. Five tags were available for hunting in 2022
  • West Virginia (2016); +80 elk with currently no hunting season
  • Wisconsin (1995); +390 elk. Wisconsin held its first elk hunt in 2018. The number of tags for 2022 was not available at press time – eight tags were issued in 2021

To include those states listed above, there are currently free-ranging elk in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming all feature wild elk. RMEF collaborates with each state wildlife agency to ensure the future of its elk population.

For more information about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, contact the organization by visiting or calling 1-800-CALL ELK.

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