You wouldn’t know it now, but at one time, herds of wild elk roamed certain portions of South Carolina's Upstate. The big animals – the largest in the deer family – were wiped out of the Palmetto State in the late 1700s. Not long after that, they were gone from North Carolina too, along with other Eastern states.
Fifteen years ago, elk were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The reintroduction was so successful that North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission just approved an elk hunting season.
It will be a short, month-long hunting season, and only a handful of elk permits are likely to be granted during the first few years of the Tarheel State’s elk hunting seasons, but it’s a great start, especially considering that elk were just restocked into the state less than two decades ago.
So where does that leave South Carolina? Should we reintroduce elk here too? It’s a native animal, and the mountainous areas of the Upstate are perfect habitat. Are there any downsides to it at all?
Actually, in North Carolina’s Haywood County, elk have caused a lot of damage to farmland and property over the past few years, so much so that landowners have legally shot a handful of the animals under a depredation clause that allows killing under certain circumstances. Many of these landowners spoke in favor of an elk hunting season, citing thousands of dollars worth of damages incurred by elk to their properties.
Several unconfirmed elk sightings have occurred in recent years in the Upstate, so they may be here already, at least in very small numbers. Shane Foster, a hunter from Westminster said he saw elk while deer hunting in South Carolina last season.
“I saw elk in South Carolina during deer hunting season. I had to look twice. It was cool to see in the woods,” said Foster. “I thought I was seeing things at first. I was hunting about 20-miles from the North Carolina line.”
Thomas Ward serves as a South Carolina Chapter volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and while he said he knows of no current plan to reintroduce elk into South Carolina, he hopes South Carolina has an elk population one day.
“They were here in South Carolina long before we were, and we know the herd they reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains has been expanding. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them make it into South Carolina one day, if some haven’t already,” said Ward.
Another South Carolinian who hopes to see elk in the Palmetto State one day has started a petition to encourage lawmakers to reintroduce elk here.
“All of the South Carolina Upstate in the mountain area from Table Rock to Caesars Head, to Lake Jocassee is perfect habitat for these animals. Let’s bring these great creatures back to the Upstate and fix what humans broke,” said Martin.
Click here to sign Martin’s petition to bring elk back to South Carolina.