Virginia will hold its first-ever managed elk hunt this fall. The hunt will take place inside the state’s Elk Management Zone, which includes all of Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise Counties, and the special season will run from Oct. 8 to Oct. 14. Five antlered elk tags will be made available to the hunting public, and these tags will be distributed through the Inaugural Virginia Elk Hunt Lottery. Both resident and non-resident hunters can apply for the lottery anytime between Feb. 1 and March 30.
The establishment of this year’s managed elk hunting season—and the state’s first-ever elk tags—is a historic moment in the state’s history. Hunters in Virginia have been able to legally harvest elk during deer season since 2001, but this coming fall is the first time that the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources will hold a managed elk hunt in the state.
Virginia’s elk were hunted into extinction during the mid-19th century, and according to the Virginia DWR, “The last native elk in Virginia was harvested several years prior to the start of the Civil War in 1855.” This coincided with the over-exploitation of Eastern Elk throughout their native range, and the subspecies was declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1880.
In the time since then, Virginia has made multiple attempts to reintroduce elk. The state wildlife agency, formerly known as the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 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 (including poor habitat quality, poaching, and over-harvesting) for the herd’s decline, and by 1970, those elk were wiped out as well.
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. 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.
The success of the state’s re-introduction program led to the establishment of the Elk Management Plan in 2019. And in 2020, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that would establish an elk tag, which paved the way for this year’s special elk hunting season.
Hunters can apply to the Inaugural Virginia Elk Hunt Lottery beginning Feb. 1. State residents will be required to pay a nonrefundable application fee of $15, and that fee bumps up to $40 for non-residents. If their name is drawn, hunters will have to purchase a $40 resident or a $400 nonresident elk tag. Winners will be notified by May 30.