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

Elk in Wisconsin

Elk calf searching offers the experience of a lifetime!

Help us find elk calves this spring! Volunteers work alongside DNR staff to search for calves so biologists can collar, take measurements, and track them throughout life to determine important information that impacts elk management. Volunteers must be fit and able to travel through dense wooded cover, in remote areas of the northern or western Wisconsin forests. Days available will be between May 19th and June 24th. Days are filling fast, so don’t delay. Volunteers are needed in the central elk herd near Black River Falls so contact Steve Meurett. If you’d prefer to work further north with the original Clam Lake herd, contact Josh Spiegel or Laine Stowell.

Elk Hunt 2018

After more than 22 years of elk reintroduction efforts, 2018 will mark Wisconsin’s first managed elk hunt in state history. See the news release announcement. Thanks to the conservation efforts of many partners, the elk population in the original Clam Lake herd has continued to increase over the years to levels that biologists feel could support a very limited bull hunt. Hunting will not take place in areas where Kentucky elk were recently introduced. Four tags will be awarded to Wisconsin residents through a random drawing. One additional tag will be awarded to a Wisconsin resident through a raffle conducted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Similar to other hunted species in northern Wisconsin, five tags will be allotted for harvest by the Ojibwe tribes. Interested hunters can apply, however only Wisconsin residents are eligible to purchase an elk tag. The application fee is $10 and applications will be available starting May 1 through the Go WILD system at Go Wild.

Wisconsin’s inaugural elk hunting season will adhere to the following guidelines:

  • season will be open from October 13 to November 11, 2018 and December 13-21, 2018;
  • only bull elk may be harvested;
  • areas where Kentucky elk were released between 2015-2017 will be off limits to hunting.
  • only Wisconsin residents are eligible to receive a harvest tag; and
  • application fee will be $10 and the application period is anticipated to be May 1-31. The license fee will be $49;
  • the application and license fees are earmarked for elk management and research in Wisconsin.

More information can be found on the Elk Hunt Frequently Asked Questions [PDF].


Elk (Cervus elaphus) once ranged over most of North America and throughout Wisconsin. They were extirpated from Wisconsin in the mid- to late-1800s due to overhunting and a rapid decline in habitat with the onset of European settlement. Historic records show elk once inhabited at least 50 of the state's 72 counties. An attempt at bringing elk back to the state in the 1930s failed because of poaching and the last four elk were reportedly killed in 1948. Today, however, most of the suitable elk habitat is in the northern and central forest regions of the state.

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. One final year of translocation is expected to occur in 2019, and all elk are again slated to be released in the Flambeau River State Forest within the Clam Lake elk range.

Read more about the Wisconsin elk reintroduction [PDF].

Current populations

As of March 2018, the Black River elk herd was estimated to contain approximately 55 animals, with approximately 20 calves expected to be born this spring. A drop in the population from the original release number was expected, and is common in any type of reintroduction effort, regardless of the species. When animals are reintroduced into an unfamiliar environment, the risk of meeting with an untimely death (car accident, predation, etc.) are high. Once animals have had an opportunity to become familiar with their new home range and go through a few breeding seasons, numbers begin to climb. This cycle is fully anticipated with the Black River herd, and signs of population increase are evident. As of March 2018, the Clam Lake elk herd was estimated to be approximately 185 individuals, with approximately 45 calves expected to be born in spring. This population has grown slowly, but steadily, since reintroduction in 1995. The Spring 2018 Elk Population Status Summary is now available for both the Clam Lake Herd [PDF] and the Black River Herd [PDF]. With a projected population of over 200 elk in the Clam Lake herd in 2018, Wisconsin will initiate its first regulated hunt in state history in the Clam Lake Elk Range this fall.

Elk photos

Photos of the current elk reintroduction program.

Photos from the 2015 & 2017 trapping, relocation and release.

Releasing an elk after initial data collection in Kentucky. Elk health testing gets you in close. Elk approaching a trap in Kentucky. Assembling a Kentucky elk trap. Constructing a Kentucky trap. Elk arriving at the quarantine pen in Wisconsin! The health testing and transportation crew. Another view of the first elk being released into the quarantine pen in Wisconsin. All four calves grazing near a cow. 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. 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. A series of sliding gates help move animals through the processing facility one at a time.(2017) ( Waiting for final health checks. (2017) Elk in the processing facility waiting for final health check and fitting of GPS tracking collar. (2017) Elk calf. (2017) Cow group in Jackson County, captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera. (2017) Making final adjustments to a GPS tracking collar. (2017) Elk being driven to the processing facility during final health testing. (2017) Two bull elk in Jackson County A bull elk near Clam lake A bull elk 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 bull elk near Clam Lake A cow elk in Jackson County

Clam Lake herd

January-June 2017 Semi-annual 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.

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.

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.

Jackson County herd

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 this year’s 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 their space and view the elk from afar.

Thank you!

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 1221 square 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.

Last revised: Friday April 13 2018