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Contact information
For information on elk, contact:
Kevin Wallenfang
Deer and Elk Ecologist
Bureau of Wildlife Management

Elk in Wisconsin

Visit the Clam Lake or Black River Elk Range to experience Wisconsin's elk.

Once widespread here and across North America, elk were eliminated from Wisconsin in the 1880s due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. Over 130 years later, they once again live in the Central and Northern forest regions of our state. From a population of 25 elk reintroduced in 1995, and with the help of a second reintroduction efforts that started in 2015, the state’s total elk population is quickly approaching 400 animals. Thanks to the support of multiple partners and the backing of Wisconsin citizens, the bugle of rutting September bulls is back and here to stay!

Elk hunting

Elk Hunt 2019

The 2019 Wisconsin elk hunt will occur only within the Clam Lake Elk Range in Ashland, Bayfield, Price and Sawyer Counties. Hunt details include:

  • Application period: May 1-31
  • Wisconsin residents only may apply
  • Application fee: $10
  • Drawing results: Available in mid-June
  • Hunt dates: October 12 to November 10 and December 12-20, 2019
  • Tag levels: Five bull-only tags
  • License fee: $49
  • One tag will be awarded through a raffle by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation [exit DNR]
  • Successful applicants will take a mandatory elk hunter orientation prior to being issued their license and tag.
  • Seven dollars from every $10 application fee, as well as proceeds from the RMEF raffle, are earmarked for elk management and research in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Elk Hunting Regulations

Elk Hunt Frequently Asked Questions [PDF].

Elk hunt 2018

Wayne Ramcheck, November 11, 2018 Dan Vandertie, November 8, 2018. Tyler Erdman, November 11, 2018

Wisconsin’s first managed elk hunt in state history drew strong interest with over 38,400 applicants in the state drawing, and an additional 5,000 raffle tickets sold by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Nine bulls were harvested out of the 10-bull quota, including four bulls by state hunters during the 39-day hunt, and five bulls by members of the Chippewa Tribes.

Reintroduction efforts

Early reintroduction efforts

In 1989, the department was directed by the state legislature to explore the feasibility of successfully reintroducing elk, moose and caribou. In the end, it was determined that an elk reintroduction effort could succeed, while reintroductions of moose or caribou likely would not. In 1993, the Wisconsin state legislature authorized the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UW-SP) to evaluate the potential for reintroducing elk to the Great Divide District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) near Clam Lake. During February 1995, 25 elk were trapped, held in a quarantine facility while undergoing disease testing and transported to the Clam Lake release site. After being held in a pen for an acclimation period, the elk were released into the CNNF on May 17, 1995. At that time plans were also made, but not carried out, to reintroduce elk to the Black River State Forest near Black River Falls of west central Wisconsin (Jackson County).

Management responsibility of the herd was transferred from the UW-SP to the department in May 1999 after the initial reintroduction study was considered a success. At that time, approximately 40 elk were present in the herd.

Current reintroduction efforts

In 2014, the department entered into an agreement with the state of Kentucky to import, quarantine and release as many as 150 wild elk over a period of up to 5 years. The overall plan involved dividing these animals into two areas of the state, including releasing up to 75 elk to establish a new elk herd in the Black River State Forest with a long-term population goal of 390 elk. This effort occurred in 2015 and 2016 with 73 elk released. The plan also called for adding up to 75 elk to the existing Clam Lake herd with a long-term population goal of 1,400 elk. One year of this effort was completed in 2017, resulting in the release of 31 Kentucky elk into the Flambeau River State Forest near the town of Winter. 2019 marked the final year of translocation and was also the most efficient and successful translocation to date, with 48 elk transported to the FRSF on April 3rd. Details are available in an April 3, 2019 press release [PDF]. The elk will complete their required 120-day quarantine and acclimation period before release later this summer. As many as 21 additional calves are expected to be born prior to release.

Read more about the Wisconsin elk reintroduction [PDF].

Current populations and management

The Black River elk herd was estimated to contain approximately 60 animals as of March 2019. With approximately 20 calves expected to be born this spring, the herd is projected to approach 75-80 animals this year. Calf survival has been very high, with 17 confirmed births in 2018, and all 17 calves still alive as of March 2019. Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of mortality in the Black River herd, and no elk have been killed by predation since September of 2016. After the initial expected drop in numbers following reintroduction, the population is beginning to climb and the Black River herd is showing good signs of population increase.

The Clam Lake elk herd was estimated to be approximately 190 individuals as of March 2019. With approximately 52 calves expected to be born in spring, the herd is projected to fall between 211-236 this year. This population has grown slowly, but steadily since reintroduction in 1995. Wisconsin will again hold a very limited hunt in the Clam Lake Elk Range this fall. Detailed reports on each herd can be found in the tabs below.

Clam Lake herd

January-December 2018 Clam Lake elk herd update [PDF]

March 2018 Clam Lake elk herd update [PDF]

January-June 2017 Clam Lake elk herd update [PDF]

Exciting rutting activity by a Clam Lake bull.

Collared cow

As of spring 2017, approximately 190 elk made up the main herd near Clam Lake and a second smaller herd located near Butternut. Although they currently occupy approximately 90 square miles of the designated elk range, the herd has grown at an average rate of 13 percent annually. However, growth rates have varied from as high as 30 percent to as low as -16 percent since 1995. Primary causes of mortality include predation by wolves and bear and vehicle collisions. Primary habitat used by the elk consists of aspen and pine forests interspersed with forest openings, lowland conifers and water bodies.

Current management practices are focused on research aimed at securing the future of elk in Wisconsin. Research is utilized for gaining additional knowledge in regards to survival and recruitment rates, habitat use and movement patterns.

Black River herd

January-December 2018 Black River elk herd update[PDF]

June-December 2017 Black River elk herd update[PDF]

January-June 2017 Semi-annual Black River elk herd update [PDF]

An important message about elk viewing in Jackson County

To ensure a successful reintroduction of elk into Jackson County, please respect the elk and their habitat. Disturbances to the elk, such as calling them or attempting to view them by foot, may force the elk into areas in which they may not otherwise reside and can make them more susceptible to predation, vehicle collisions, or other undesirable circumstances.

While it is understandable that people will have the desire to observe the elk, in the interest of the animals’ health the public is asked to refrain from pressuring or calling to the elk during the rutting season. This type of disturbance can disrupt breeding activities and separate the elk from their family units, leading to slower population growth.

The many partners involved in the elk reintroduction are happy to see high public interest and excitement surrounding the elk reintroduction. Please respect the elk's space and view them from afar.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD)

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a degenerative disease of the brain and nervous system tissue that infects members of the cervid family (deer, elk, etc.). CWD is present in white-tailed deer in Wisconsin but has not yet been detected in an elk in Wisconsin. All hunter harvested elk, and all elk that die of other causes that a viable sample can be taken from, are tested for CWD.

Elk CWD testing results

Ongoing projects

Along with staying busy working on the reintroduction of elk in to Jackson County, department staff are attending to numerous projects to ensure for the success and sustainability of our Clam Lake herd. Some recent and ongoing projects include:

Click for a printable flyer
  • posting elk management area [PDF] signs prior to the deer hunting season to ensure that hunters are aware of elk in the area;
  • distributing elk identification sheets [PDF] to local registration stations and popular establishments to educate hunters prior to deer hunting season;
  • retrieving trail cameras that were deployed and looking at captured photos in order to obtain a bull population estimate and assess calf production and survivorship;
  • completing habitat work for elk including creating two large wildlife openings in the Flambeau River State Forest that are planted with winter wheat and rye - they will be replanted with clover and timothy next spring or early-summer;
  • working on an assisted dispersal of Clam Lake elk to ensure that the entire Clam Lake elk range is utilized; and
  • obtaining weekly locations on all currently collared elk including males, females and calves as well as doing a weekly mortality check.
Elk range
Click to download this image as a printable map

Clam Lake elk range

Based on the habitat suitability model derived from a study by Didier and Porter, the Wisconsin Elk Study Committee (WESCO) determined that the United States Forest Service (USFS) Great Divide District (GDD) of the Chequamegon National Forest (CNF) near Clam Lake was most suited for an elk reintroduction. The Clam Lake elk range was recently expanded by 506 square miles so the CNF-GDD currently consists of 1,221 sq miles (781,440 acres) in portions of Ashland, Bayfield, Price, Rusk and Sawyer counties in north central Wisconsin. State Highway 77 and county highways GG and M converge near the center of the GDD at the community of Clam Lake. The GDD is mostly under National Forest ownership (81 percent or 370,656 acres). The remaining 19 percent (86,944 acres) is privately owned, with relatively little in agricultural production.

Click to download this image as a printable map

Black River elk range

In December of 2001, the Natural Resources Board (NRB) approved the Black River Elk Herd (BREH) Management Plan. The Black River Elk Range (BRER) is approximately 320 sq. miles and located in the Central Forest region of eastern Jackson County.

Viewing Clam Lake elk
Clam Lake Exhibit

An interactive touch screen kiosk has been retrofitted into an existing sign board located at the junction of state highways 77 and GG in Clam Lake, Wisconsin. The kiosk is designed to provide visitors to the area with expansive information about the resident elk herd and their habitat. The program provides information about the history of elk in Wisconsin and even has a video clip of the original elk reintroduction. Most importantly, the program contains other tools and information to help visitors experience elk including wildlife spotting guides, maps and directions to nearby viewing areas. Please note that the interactive kiosk may not be available during winter months.

Tips [PDF] for viewing elk near Clam Lake

Elk news

Elk photos

More photos of Wisconsin elk

Elk captured in Kentucky are moved through a series of chutes to collect data. Moving elk through the chute system safely sometimes means getting up close and personal. Elk approaching a trap in Kentucky. Assembling a Kentucky elk trap. Crews checked every detail of the trap before elk were captured in Kentucky. Elk arriving at the quarantine pen in Wisconsin The health testing and transportation crew. Elk being released into the quarantine pen in Wisconsin. Elk calves born in the quarantine pen. Two bulls in velvet. Attaching a collar to a yearling bull. DNR researcher Dan, sporting one of the GPS collars used to track elk. Researchers applying a collar to monitor the elk after release. Making final adjustments to a GPS tracking collar. (2017) A calf nursing on its mother. A cow with her newborn calf. Herd of elk on the move. An aerial photo of the Wisconsin quarantine pen. Elk being herded to the processing facility. (2017) A series of sliding gates helped move animals through the processing facility one at a time.(2017) ( Elk in the chute system. (2017) Elk in the processing facility waiting for final health check and fitting of GPS tracking collar. (2017) Wisconsin DNR staff and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife staff worked closely to capture elk. Elk were captured safely and efficiently using helicopters. An elk being transported for processing after capture. After capture, elk were ear tagged with a unique ID number. Drawing blood from an elk captured in Kentucky. The last elk captured in Kentucky is ear tagged and ready to go! 2019 elk translocation crew Cow group in Jackson County, captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera. (2017) Elk calf. (2017) Two bull elk in Jackson County A bull elk near Clam Lake A bull elk A bull elk near Clam Lake A cow elk in Jackson County A fall sighting of a bull elk in Sawyer County A bull elk taking a “selfie” near Clam Lake A cow elk An elk running through the woods near Clam Lake A mom and her baby feeding An elk making his way through the snow in Sawyer County A cow elk in Jackson County

Last revised: Friday August 09 2019