Virginia DWR is again offering a chance to hunt bull elk in the Elk Management Zone of Virginia for the upcoming hunting season.Apply Now!
October 2022 marked the inaugural elk hunt with all 6 hunters successfully harvesting bulls. The largest was an 8x9, weighing 852 lbs. live weight and scoring B&C non-typical 413 & 7/8 inches net and 433 & 5/8 inches gross! Learn more about the inaugural hunt »
Timeline For 2023 Elk Hunt
The hunt for the 2023–2024 season will be held Saturday, October 14, 2023 – Friday, October 20, 2023. There are five (5) antlered elk licenses available for this year’s hunt via lottery. Application period for the elk lottery will open February 1, 2023, and close March 30, 2023. Applications for a special elk hunting license can be obtained online, under elk hunting, or by calling the Department of Wildlife Resources Customer Service for assistance in applying via phone.
Applications require a non-refundable fee of $15 for Virginia residents and $20 for out-of-state residents. Winners of the elk hunting lottery will then need to purchase a special elk hunting license for $40 for in-state residents, and $400 for out-of-state residents. The special elk hunting license is not transferrable to another individual. Winners of the randomized computer drawing will be notified by May 30th. You can also check the status of your application by visiting your DWR GoOutdoorsVA page.
Once awarded a special elk hunting license, applicants will have 30 days from notification to purchase the license. Licenses that are not purchased by the deadline will be awarded to alternate hunters who will be drawn concurrently with the original hunters. Alternates will not be announced or notified unless they become eligible to purchase a special elk hunting license. Elk hunters 15 years of age and younger or holders of an apprentice hunting license must be accompanied by and directly supervised by an adult who has a valid Virginia hunting license or is exempt from purchasing a hunting license. All applicants who are drawn for a Virginia special elk hunting license must read and acknowledge the “Elk Hunting Considerations” prior to beginning their hunt, which will be provided in their elk hunter orientation materials.
DWR has many partnerships and agreements with private landowners in the Elk Management Zone that allow public access for elk hunting. Details about properties are only provided to elk license holders because of landowner privacy.
Special Elk Hunting License Application
Special licenses for hunting elk within the Elk Management Zone (EMZ) of Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise Counties, will be limited based on the biological sustainability of the herd, and the need for long-term management. In order to allow limited hunting access on a fair and equitable basis, people who wish to hunt elk within the EMZ will be required to apply through a random lottery application for a special elk hunting license.
Applications to the elk lottery will be limited to a single application, per drawing, per person. Duplicate, falsified, or improper applications will be removed from the applicant pool. Drawings will be completely random and will be done with witnesses present. Since the drawing process is completely random, the odds of being drawn will vary from year to year dependent upon the number of applications that are received. There are no landowner exceptions from either the elk application process, the special elk hunting license, or the Virginia hunting license for those who are drawn during the lottery. Applicants who are awarded a special elk hunting license will not be eligible to re-apply for 3 consecutive years to the special elk hunting license application. A successful applicant’s chances for any other Virginia quota hunts are not affected by the results of the elk application process. Applicants to Virginia’s elk hunt will not accumulate preference points or bonus points of any kind for years in which they are not drawn.
Selection Process for Special Elk Hunting Licenses
- All elk hunt lottery applicants are assigned a random number between 1 and the total number of applicants using a random number generator.
- Opportunities to purchase a special elk hunting license will be offered to the applicant randomly assigned number 1 and proceed sequentially until all slots have been filled in accordance with the following requirements.
- 1 license must go to someone who lives within the elk management zone
- No more than 1 license can be purchased by an out of state hunter
- If the winner who resides in the elk management zone cannot purchase the license, the next consecutive resident elk management zone applicant will be offered the opportunity.
- If any of the other 4 winners are unable to purchase the special elk license within 30 days, the opportunity to purchase a license will be offered to the next consecutive applicant meeting residency requirements.
Elk Hunting Outside the Elk Management Zone
Elk may be taken from any county outside the EMZ by hunters who possess a Virginia deer tag or who are license exempt. These hunters must follow deer season regulations including hunting dates and weapon restrictions, except that any elk (bull or cow) may be taken on any day of an open deer season. The bag limit on elk outside the EMZ is one per day. Please visit the Elk Hunting page for more information on hunting elk outside the EMZ.
Special Elk Hunting License Allotment
A minimum of one, or 10%, whichever is greater, of all special elk hunting licenses allotted through random lottery within a single license year will be awarded to applicants whose primary residence lies within the Elk Management Zone.
No more than one, or 10%, whichever is greater, of all special elk hunting licenses allotted through random lottery within a single license year will be awarded to applicants with an out-of-state residence. The award of a license to an out-of-state resident is not guaranteed; out-of-state entries have the same chance of being drawn as resident entries.
A single special elk hunting license will be reserved each year as a “Conservation License” for a conservation organization to be raffled off. Proceeds from the raffle of the special elk hunting license will be returned to wildlife related habitat or wildlife recreation projects within the Elk Management Zone. The Conservation License for the 2023 elk hunt will constitute a sixth special elk hunting license that is separate from the five special elk hunting licenses available via the general random lottery. Hunters have both opportunities to enter the general random lottery and purchase a raffle ticket for the conservation license.
Where will revenue generated by the elk hunt lottery application fees and license sales be used?
All revenue generated in application fees and license sales for the Elk Management Zone hunt will go to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ general fund to be used for management and conservation of all wildlife. The revenue will not be earmarked specifically for the elk program. It will be treated the same as revenue generated by license sales for all other species in the Commonwealth.
Elk Harvest Restrictions
The special elk hunting license allows the harvest of elk inside Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise Counties.
During the 2023–2024 general elk season, only elk with antlers visible above the hairline (bulls) may be taken. The bag limit for elk within the EMZ is one elk per license year.
Caliber restrictions for weapons while hunting elk within the EMZ are the same as those for hunting elk outside of the EMZ (the same as deer with the exception that elk may not be taken with slingbows or air rifles).
Only the licensed elk hunter is allowed to kill the elk. Those persons accompanying elk hunters who directly contribute to the pursuit of the elk harvest (e.g., calling, alerting hunter to where elk are, etc.) must possess a valid Virginia hunting license. Those hunting assistants who are not directly involved in the pursuit of the elk harvest (e.g., solely there to accompany or “cheer on” the hunter, help with the field processing) are not required to possess a valid Virginia hunting license.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did you institute an elk hunt in the Elk Management Zone?
We strongly believe in the “Hunting is Conservation” mantra. We are at a point in our elk management program where the population can sustain a conservative bull harvest without having negative population effects. This hunting opportunity falls in line with DWR’s mission to connect people to Virginia’s outdoors through activities, such as hunting. It also aligns with the Virginia Elk Management Plan (2019–2028), which states that recreational hunting is the preferred management approach to managing elk. We view our first managed elk hunt in the Elk Management Zone as a milestone of success for our elk restoration program.
Why are there no point systems with Virginia’s elk lottery hunt?
The Department is anticipating that the number of applications received to obtain a special elk hunting license will overwhelmingly exceed the limited number of special elk hunting licenses available each year. Awarding preference points in such a scenario would rapidly result in a seemingly insurmountable advantage for those individuals who applied annually during the initial years of the elk hunt. Such an advantage would mean that, in the future, new hunters and young hunters would have almost no opportunity to receive a special elk hunting license. Given the above scenario regarding the issuance of preference points, the Department believes a completely random drawing system is the best approach and provides the benefit of affording each applicant an equal chance of being drawn every year. Such a system does not discriminate against or act as a deterrent to new hunters, seniors, youths, or anyone else who enters the drawing from having an opportunity to be drawn within a reasonable period of time.
Additionally, given the limited number of special elk hunting licenses available, “point creep” would become a serious concern if there was a point system. An ever-increasing number of applicants entering the drawing would constantly elevate the number of preference points (and thus years) required before one could possibly receive a special elk hunting license. A preference point system would neither guarantee that an individual would ever be drawn, nor would it necessarily improve anyone’s odds of being drawn during any given year.
Why does the Department allow elk to be harvested outside of the EMZ on a deer tag?
Virginia’s Elk Management Plan 2019–2028 is the guiding document for the conservation and management of elk in Virginia. This document was carefully crafted over several years with direct input from a wide array of stakeholders in Southwest Virginia and across the state. This document summarizes the details regarding the balancing of public values designed to achieve appropriate cultural carrying capacity for elk in Virginia. The elk management zone (EMZ) was selected as the area of Virginia in which to focus elk restoration efforts because it contains few farm crops, few agricultural producers, few people, and has habitat that is suitable for supporting an elk herd. Since counties neighboring the EMZ have significant agricultural components, the stakeholders decided that for the tenure of this plan, DWR would focus elk restoration only within the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise. In order to ensure agricultural needs are met outside of these three counties within the tenure of the plan, elk will remain harvestable using deer license tags.
Why does DWR accept out-of-state resident applications for a Virginia elk lottery application?
Across their range, elk are a highly valued game species of interest to a broad spectrum of individuals interested in their conservation and management. Opportunities for non-resident individuals to hunt elk in Virginia serve as an important aspect in increasing the knowledge and support of the Virginia elk program across a broad constituency, elevating the status of and interest in Virginia’s elk population. Further, out-of-state individuals may have significant social and cultural attachment to Virginia’s Elk Management Zone, and we have a responsibility to ensure that these individuals have an opportunity to remain connected to our state and the elk project. Ultimately, we want to ensure that all future generations, both resident and non-resident, have the opportunity to participate in and reap the benefits of sound wildlife management and conservation in the Commonwealth. Further, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources is primarily funded by hunting and fishing license sales and by federal grants that are, in part, based on the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold within the state. Out-of-state residents make up a portion of total hunting and fishing license sales in Virginia every year. Therefore, out-of-state residents play a role in contributing to conservation and wildlife management within the Commonwealth. We also wish to reciprocate the elk hunting privileges and opportunities that are available to Virginia residents in many other states.
Remember that no more than one, or 10%, whichever is greater, of all special elk hunting licenses allotted through random lottery within a single license year will be awarded to applicants from out-of-state, a rule that is set in Virginia Administrative Code (see 4VAC15-90-530).
Why are the number of tags so limited/why aren’t there any cow/female harvest opportunities?
The elk herd in Virginia is growing slowly. There are still portions of the EMZ where elk can increase their numbers without conflict with humans. In order to maximize the herd’s future potential while allowing some harvest opportunities, current hunts within the EMZ are limited to antlered animals only. Provided elk productivity remains at its current level, and the population continues to increase, DWR anticipates increasing special elk hunting license allotments and the harvest of antlerless elk in the future.
Are there any other ways to get a Virginia special elk hunting license?
For 2023, there are two pathways through which an individual might receive a special elk hunting license in Virginia:
- Win a special elk hunting license through the random draw lottery, and
- Win a special elk hunting license raffled by a conservation organization through our Conservation License Program.
Another potential pathway that an individual could receive a special elk hunting license in future years is through the Department’s Landowner License Program. This program is specifically designed to create public access and opportunities for elk hunting to the general public on private property within the EMZ. Through participation in this program, a landowner has the ability to obtain a special elk hunting license in the future; however, that opportunity will take several years and no special elk hunting licenses will be available through this program for the 2023–2024 season.
Will there be guides/outfitters associated with elk hunting in southwest Virginia?
DWR is not aware of any local guides or outfitters in the EMZ. Local partners may provide assistance to hunters in the field, however, hunters should be prepared to handle all aspects of the hunt independently or plan to bring assistants to help in the process. Remember: Packing out an elk can be an arduous task! An adult bull elk may weigh 400+ pounds after field-dressing. If boned-out, an adult bull elk will still yield 175+ pounds of meat to pack out, not including the head, skin, and antlers.
Will there be opportunities and/or accommodations for disabled hunters?
Yes! DWR highly encourages all hunters, regardless of disability, to apply for this hunt. DWR has access to handicapped-accessible stands and is willing to work with hunters on an individual basis to meet their needs for elk hunting. Our local partners are also willing to provide necessary support to disabled hunters to help them have a successful elk hunt.