published Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Deadline Sunday for elk hunt


by Dan Cook

At least one poaching incident has involved the elk herd created by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

The culprit in that case turned himself in, telling officials he mistook the elk he shot for a deer.

One other suspected case of poaching has been reported, according to the TWRA, and two elk were killed when a tree fell on them. Lightning felled one, and several have died from collisions with motor vehicles.

Overall, though, the elk program has fared well, coordinator Steve Bennett said, and Greg Wathen backed that up at the recent gathering of the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association in Camden. Wathen is TWRA’s chief of wildlife management.

“Once they get to a certain plateau, the numbers just seem to go up,” he said.

The first legal Tennessee elk hunt in more than a century is set for Oct. 19-23 in the 160,000-acre North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, and the TWRA will issue five permits for it. Sunday night is the deadline for applications; more than 11,000 have been filed.

Four recipients will be selected by a computer drawing, and the fifth will get a permit sold on eBay by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation, which won the bidding for that organizational permit. The chosen applicants will be announced at the June 18 meeting of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission in Nashville.

Proceeds from the sale of permits will go to the elk program. The regular license holders applying since April 1 have paid $10 fees, and officials hope the fundraising will greatly offset the estimated $100,000 cost of the program. The price is $500-$1,000 per animal to bring the elk to Tennessee, Wathen said.

For a similar hunt in Arkansas, one out-of-state sportsman paid $42,500 for a permit and killed a six-by-six (tines on the antler racks) bull.

The TWRA will establish five hunting zones of about 8,000 acres each in North Cumberland — comprised of the Sundquist, Royal Blue and New River units — for the elk hunters.

Bennett said large elk have been spotted in the region.

“We’ve seen one seven-by-six and we’ve had a report of an eight-by-eight, but I haven’t seen it,” he said.

Tennessee started with 167 elk from Elk Island, Canada, and Land Between the Lakes (originally from Elk Island) in 2003. The herd was estimated at 231 in 2007 and 297 last year, when 34 additional elk were brought from LBL.

Attempts to bring more elk from Canada and elsewhere have been restrained by fears of disease spreading. Yet biologists hope the Tennessee herd will continue to multiply as it has in Kentucky, where, Wathen said, the number is now estimated at 8,000 to 12,000.

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