Kelly Sheffer poses with the elk she shot in December while hunting at the Black River Ranch in Onaway. She says she is considering having a rug made with the animal's hide. (Kelly Sheffer)
After nine years and three days, Kelly Sheffer finally managed to bag her first elk.
“It was awesome,” the 50-year-old hunter from North Branch said. “I thought it would be easy, but it’s harder than it looks.”
Sheffer was among those who harvested 171 elk during the two halves of the 2013 hunting season, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. State officials are calling the elk hunting season a success because the targeted number of elk to be killed was met.
Sheffer got her elk, a 320-pound cow, in the woods at the Black River Ranch in Onaway, about 250 miles north of Detroit. She said she butchered the cow and is considering making a rug out of the hide.
She hired a hunting guide to improve her chances, Sheffer said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. So, I wasn’t going to mess around.”
Sheffer and her guide tracked elk for nearly three days in the Pigeon River Country State Forest Area. After a few sightings and limited opportunities, they moved east to the woods at the Black River Ranch, she said.
Vern Bishop, the elk hunting guide Sheffer hired, said hunters had the best success rate for elk that he’s seen in years. Bishop said he’s been a guide since the state first started holding annual elk hunts in 1984.
“The elk were easy to get to because they were all concentrated in one area to get to their food source, which is acorns,” he said. “I was with one group, and they took five elk in five days.”
Elk were nearly hunted to the point of disappearing from Michigan in the late 1800s.
Today, hunting is used to keep the animal’s population in check and in balance with the available habitat. DNR officials estimate the state’s elk population is between 800 and 1,400.
“Our hunts are used to help keep elk in large blocks of public land to reduce conflicts on agricultural and private lands,” said Jennifer Kleitch, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
But Anja Heister, director of the In Defense of Animals’ Wild & Free-Habitats Campaign in San Rafael, Calif., said hunting elk — or any animal — is unethical.
“It’s scientifically unfounded that hunting is the best method to manage wildlife,” Heister said.
In Defense of Animals is an international animal rights and rescue organization. It works with a campaign designed to stop hunting and trapping programs.
Michigan’s elk hunting season is divided into two halves: The early season is held over 12 days in late August and early September, while the late season is Dec. 7-15. Seventy-eight animals were killed in the early season and 93 in the late season. The 171 total for 2013 compares with 158 elk that were harvested in 2012, according to the DNR.
More than 32,000 hunters apply annually for elk hunting licenses, officials say. For the 2013 elk season, 100 were selected by lottery to hunt in each half.
Sheffer said she started hunting about 15 years ago and mostly looked for bear, deer, turkey, pheasant and other animals. She has applied for an elk hunting license every year for the past nine years.
“I just kept applying,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d actually pull a tag.”
Doug Doherty, regional director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula, Mont., said elk hunting helps Michigan’s economy.
In October, the conservation group awarded the state $28,500 to enhance elk habitat, reduce damage to private crops and sponsor hunting heritage projects.
“Elk are important to the entire state of Michigan; folks come from all around to view them in their natural places,” Doherty said.
“For many northern Michigan towns and businesses, elk viewing and hunting are a huge part of their livelihood.”