Tennessee recently wrapped up its 2023 elk season. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) issued 14 permits. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation assisted with the successful restoration of elk to their historic Tennessee range in 2000. Since 1990, RMEF and its partners completed 110 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Tennessee with a combined value of more than $4.2 million. These projects conserved and enhanced 79,396 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 78,388 acres. Below is the story one hunter shared with TWRA about his recent experience.
I was extremely blessed to draw the coveted TN elk tag this year. I have hunted elk out west for six years and was very excited to be able to have the opportunity to chase elk in my home state. I spent all spring and summer looking forward to this trip. I want to start by giving a huge shout-out to Brad Miller, the TWRA elk program coordinator. He reached out after I was drawn and was very helpful with information about the hunt. I drove over in August to meet with Brad, and he was able to show me around my unit and answer any questions that I had. That proved to be a very valuable trip and allowed us to hit the ground running when we came back out in September. I started elk season with a solo hunt in Idaho, then met up with a friend in Colorado, before coming back for the Tennessee elk hunt. My buddy, Mark Utley Jr., who is in some of the TN photos, was able to kill his first public land elk in Colorado and then joined me on the TN hunt. I arrived in town on the 28th of September to scout and pull cameras that had been out since August. Mark joined me on the 29th and we scouted some more that afternoon. We were able to find a nice 6×6 on Friday afternoon, so our plan was to start there on Saturday morning when the season opened. We were able to locate those elk at daylight Saturday morning and stalked them to within 100 yards of the bull and his cows. As hunting goes, they walked off into the woods and we tried hunting them for the next couple of hours with no luck. The bull was bugling and rutting hard, but he didn’t have any interest in our calling. He was focused on keeping his cows to himself.
We headed back to the truck around nine o’clock to go check out another area that I had marked as one of the top locations and had several nice bulls on camera over the last month. As soon as we parked and got out of the truck, there were 3-4 bulls bugling in different directions and we immediately went into hunt mode. We just let the bulls continue to bugle, and we were able to sneak up to the edge of a large bench where a herd of cows were located with several bulls moving in and out trying to establish dominance. The big 6×6 herd bull was moving back and forth pushing other bulls away from the cows. We watched this scene unfold for 20-30 minutes and it was a lot of fun. As things started to feel like they were settling down, we started to do some calling of our own, and the herd bull was very responsive. After watching him chase several bulls away from the herd, our plan was to have Mark drop off the back side of this bench and get aggressive with calling and raking a tree, to make this bull believe that we were another bull coming in from the opposite direction. We went through our calling sequence a few times with cow calls, bugles, and raking until the bull couldn’t take it anymore and he left his cows to come across the bench looking for this new intruder. Thankfully, our setup was perfect and as the bull made his way across the bench so he could look over and try to see where Mark was calling from, it brought him right in front of me at 40 yards. I was able to make a slightly quartering shot without the bull ever knowing what happened. He only went about 50 yards and stopped, and I was able to move up and get a second arrow in him, which finished the job. It was a bittersweet feeling to know that what could possibly be a once-in-a-lifetime hunt was over almost as quickly as it had begun. It was an action-packed hunt and full of memories that we will never forget. There aren’t very many people in this country who can say that they have a TN elk in their collection, and I feel very blessed and honored that I had the opportunity to partake in this hunt and take such a magnificent animal and a great representation of the elk that call TN home.
As an avid outdoorsman, I am extremely grateful for everyone who has been involved in the efforts to restore elk back to Tennessee and several other eastern states. It is a challenging endeavor and one that takes a lot of planning, money, and hard work. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity that it provided for me and will continue to champion the work that has been done and will continue to be done to provide others with these types of opportunities.
Click here to view photos of other Tennessee hunters.
(Photo credit: Tyler Warren)