Columns/Opinion, Environment, Local Sports, Opinion, Other Local Sports, Sports

SAMUEL: Elk lottery brings big money to Virginia         

MORGANTOWN — Between 2012 and 2014, elk were reintroduced into Virginia in Buchanan County. Now there are an estimated 250 elk in that area, and six hunters had the opportunity to harvest a bull from October 8-14, 2022.

Virginia’s wildlife agency established an Elk Management Zone in southwestern Virginia composed of Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise counties.

Applicants for five of the six permits had to apply between February 1 and March 30. They could apply by filling out an application online or by calling the Department of Wildlife Resources Customer Service.

There was a $15 non-refundable fee, and winners of that lottery had to then purchase a $40 elk hunting license that was non transferrable to another individual.

That lottery had 31,000 applicants and raised over $513,000. Yes, 31,000 people applied for five permits. Obviously the interest was there.

The sixth conservation elk tag was given to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for a special raffle via that organization. That meant that a non-resident would probably get that permit. The highest bid for that permit was $93,000. Add the two sums of money raised gives you $606,000.

If a winner of the Virginia lottery was 15 years of age and younger, they had to be directly supervised by an adult who had a valid Virginia Hunting license. A hunter could have as many non-hunting assistants as they wanted, but only the permit holder could hunt.

The hunter could have his friends out there looking for an elk for him. One more thing. One license had to go to someone living in the Elk Management Zone. Lots of rules for these permits.

Within the Elk Management Zone there were many partnerships and agreements with private landowners that allowed public access for elk hunting.

All revenue generated for the Elk Management Zone hunt went to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ general fund to be used for management and conservation of all wildlife. It wasn’t so stated, but I got the impression that wildlife and management projects within the elk management zone would get preferential treatment.

Elk have been reintroduced in several eastern and midwestern states, including West Virginia.

Michigan has held a lottery drawing for elk since 2003. The non-refundable fee is $5, and if not drawn you get an extra chance in the lottery the next time you apply. So if you applied every year since inception, in the 2022 drawing you‘d have 20 total chances of getting a permit.

Michigan has an estimated 900 to1,500 elk and in 2021 they gave out 300 permits. Only Michigan residents can apply. Even so you the odds of getting a permit are very low. If you do draw then you have to buy a $100 hunting license.

The history of elk in Pennsylvania is long and mixed heavily with farmers complaints. However, 50,000 individuals applied for the first elk in hunt 2001.

Thirty were chosen and 27 elk killed. Since then about 20,000 applicants apply every year. They now have a September archery elk hunt and this year 14 bulls and 15 cows can be harvested in that season.

The general elk season ran from Oct 31-November 5, and 31 bulls and 70 cows is the goal for that season. A late season runs from December 31 to January 5th and the goal is 15 bulls and 33 cows. There is a separate application process for each of the three seasons and the cost is around $12 for each, so if you apply for all seasons, your non-refundable cost is $36.

In recent years there is a 100 percent success rate on bulls and about an 80 percent success rate on cows. Pennsylvania has a preference point system for those who don’t draw, and non-residents can apply for permits.

As you can see, different states have different rules, but in general they use a lottery system, with non-refundable charges. Sometimes the money made goes toward elk, and sometimes it goes to manage all wildlife within that state.

Either way, the demand from hunters to hunt elk is growing and they are willing to pay for the privilege. West Virginia is probably years from a lottery for a few permits, but it will happen. I believe that when elk were first brought here, some hunters had the idea that eventually there would be an elk season open to everyone. As you can see from the above, that never was the case and it won’t happen.

No matter what your thoughts, it’s great to have elk in West Virginia.

Dr. Dave Samuel is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. His outdoor columns have appeared, and continue to appear, in Bowhunter magazine and the Whitetail Journal. If you have questions or comments on wildlife and conservation issues, email him at