Scientific Name: Cervus elaphus
Abundance: Small population in Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties
Bull elk with collar (Photo: Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)
Bull and cow elk (Photo: Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)
NCWRC staff collaring an elk (Photo: NCWRC)
NCWRC staff collaring an elk 2 (Photo: NCWRC)
The Eastern Elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis) once roamed throughout the eastern United States, including parts of North Carolina. After the arrival of European settlers, however, unregulated hunting and loss of habitat led to rapid population declines through the 1700s. By the year 1800, the Eastern Elk was extirpated from North Carolina and by the mid-1800s, Eastern Elk had almost disappeared throughout their range entirely. The last known wild Eastern Elk was killed in in Pennsylvania in 1877.
Today, North Carolina’s elk are actually the Manitoban subspecies of elk (Cervus elaphus manitobensis). In 2001 and 2002, the National Park Service reintroduced 52 elk into the Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park as part of an experimental project to determine if elk could survive and reproduce in the area. Some of these elk wandered outside the park’s boundaries and established ranges there. During the initial phase of the reintroduction, the National Park Service, via verbal agreement with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, was responsible for managing elk on and off Park property. Beginning in 2008, when the reintroduction was officially deemed a success, responsibility for elk management outside of park boundaries was transferred to NCWRC.
Currently, the Wildlife Commission estimates there are between 150 – 200 elk residing in North Carolina on public land, private land, and within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Learn more by reading the elk species profile. (PDF)
In 2016, the NCWRC passed 15A NCAC 10B .0225 that created a framework for an elk hunting season in the future. Along with this new rule, the NCWRC passed a resolution clarifying that a season would only be implemented when there are sufficient numbers of elk to support harvest.
In 2018, the General Assembly passed General Statue 113-270.3 (b), expanding the framework for an elk hunting season by creating an resident and nonresident elk license.
Currently, North Carolina's elk population is not at a level where hunting meets our management objectives.
Elk are very large herbivores and can sometimes cause issues in gardens or agriculture. If you are experiencing elk nuisance issues, the handout below may be of use.
Elk Damage Prevention and Control Methods (PDF by USDA Forest Service/USDA-APHIS-ADC)
Elk Range Map (2018 Elk Range)
William H. Silver Game Land Map (PDF)
2013-2015 Elk Management Plan (PDF)
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is currently conducting research in conjunction with the University of Tennessee to estimate elk population abundance, survival, recruitment, and growth in North Carolina. This 5-year project will employ spatially explicit capture-mark-recapture (SECR) methods based on fecal DNA to estimate elk vital rates and will determine if current immigration, survival, and recruitment rates are sufficient to enable a sustainable hunt in North Carolina.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been conducting habitat management on state-owned game lands to benefit elk and a suite of other species that rely on early successional plant communities. Cooperation with partners has allowed not only the acquisition of William H. Silver Game Land but also has allowed the implementation of multiple habitat improvement projects. These projects include daylighting existing non-paved roads, creating linear wildlife openings, developing elk meadows, managing vegetation and conducting prescribed burns. These activities provide high-quality forage that meets the needs of lactating elk cows and recently born calves.
Landowner Attitudes Towards Elk in Western North Carolina - 2022 Report (PDF)
Elk species profile (PDF)
Elk Habitat Suitability Index for North Carolina - Final Report September 2013 (PDF)
Evaluation of the Landowner View of Elk in Western North Carolina - Report May 2014(PDF)
Feasibility of Establishing a Huntable Elk Population in North Carolina - Final Report, 12/19/2014 (PDF)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Elk Information
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation – North Carolina