Conservationists Create New Public Game Land For Elk Population
North Carolina's recovering elk population has about 2,030 more acres to spread out into. The Conservation fund and the state Wildlife Resources Commission helped acquire nine properties outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to create the William H. Silver Game Land.
David Stewart is the Southern Mountains Land Management Biologist for the WRC. He describes the elk as "maybe a deer as big as a horse. They're huge. You're looking at 700, 800, and some of the bulls are getting close to 1,000 pounds. They're big critters, so they need a lot of room, and they eat a lot. They're something to see."
The bulls are expected to begin bugling as rutting season approaches. Because of the terrain and limited road access, Stewart says you'll need to hoof it on the trails if you want to see an elk on the game land. He says the nearby Cataloochie Valley is still the best place to spot an elk after a drive.
After nearly being destroyed by development and over-hunting, elk were re-introduced into the Cataloochie Valley in the early aughts. State Wildlife Resources Commission Biologist David Stewart says the herd now has about 150 animals.
"What's in Cataloochie will only support so many elk. Now elk, they'll browse and they'll eat acorns and other stuff, but they're mainly grazers. They want grasses and such as that, so once they started leaving Cataloochie Valley, that's what they started looking for. And that's how they'd end up in folks' yard and agricultural fields and this and that and the other."
Hunters and fishermen are also welcome to pursue bears, trout and other species on the Silver Game Land. But Stewart doesn't want recreators to get any really big ideas.
"As far as elk is concerned, there is no hunting season," said Stewart, who said he hopes there will be someday, but that could be a long while off.
"You know, if we ever have a hunting season, it'll be because the elk population is to a point we feel comfortable with doing that. So, if there's a hunting season that means the elk are doing really good."