2009 Elk Forecast: Southeast U.S.

With a population of 10,000, Tennessee is probably your best bet for a southeastern elk.

Andy Miller, a businessman from Franklin, Tenn., made the winning bid last week on the final Tennessee Special Elk Take Permit. Miller conquered some 31 bidders for the final tag on eBAy with an offer of $17,700. This permit is one of five bull elk tags issued to sportsmen for Tennessee's 2009 Season. So look elsewhere, unless you have very deep pockets.

Arkansas’s elk are found in the northwest along the Buffalo National River. Numbers have climbed gradually in the past five years, says Cory Gray, the state’s elk program coordinator. Winter has little effect on elk, but it does play a role in acorn production, a nutritional staple for both elk and white‑tailed deer. “We’ve seen some late-winter freezes which affect the mast crop,” notes Gray. The state has also experienced periods of intense heat the past several summers, which stresses both vegetation and elk.

Gray believes calf deaths as a result of oppressive heat are the primary culprit for calf/cow ratios that have hovered around 30/100 for the past several years. These numbers are sufficient to maintain the state’s elk numbers, but don’t allow for increases. However, there does seem to be some herd expansion westward. Conflicts with agriculture are negatively affecting landowners’ tolerance for elk. Thus, one management objective is to nudge elk expansion in the direction of the Ozark National Forest.

For 2009, the state will offer 26 tags for elk on public land: eight bull permits, 16 antlerless permits and two any-sex youth tags. Two bull tags are auctioned, offering the only opportunity for nonresidents to hunt elk on public land. Private land tags may be sold to nonresidents.

As the recently named head of the elk program, Gray is excited about the future of elk and elk hunting in Arkansas. He looks forward to conducting research on calf recruitment and developing stronger relationships with private landowners.

Kentucky’s herd in the 16-county elk restoration zone could soon hit 11,000 animals. Giant typical and nontypical bulls are killed each season, making the state’s elk hunt wildly popular. With such robust numbers, Kentucky is upping its tag offerings by a large portion this season, boosting available licenses by more than 50 percent. The state will offer 250 bull permits and 750 antlerless permits, with 10 percent of the tags going to out of staters. Those who don’t draw can look to landowners who auction their permits or to auctioned Commissioner Tags.

Excitement is rampant for Tennessee’s first-ever elk hunt since before the Civil War. In 2000, elk were released in the Cumberland Mountains in the east, thanks in part to the efforts of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The herd has grown impressively in the past three years, with wildlife managers hoping to soon release more animals to supplement the expanding population.

Oct. 19-23 will see five lucky hunters afield with elk tags in separate hunting zones. Issued through a drawing, one of four publicly allotted tags may be claimed by a nonresident. A fifth tag will be auctioned on Ebay by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation. No matter how the hunt unfolds, this is truly history in the making.

Check out our interactive elk map for state-by-state populations, tag costs, bull-to-cow ratios and more.

Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

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