A deer hunter appears to have mistakenly killed two young bull elk in Rusk County, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The incidents occurred on private property during the state’s 2019 nine day gun deer season that ended Sunday, according to the DNR.

The hunter, an adult female, reported the shootings to law enforcement officials on Nov. 25, DNR Chief Conservation Warden Todd Schaller said.

The hunter’s identity is not being released pending possible filing of charges by the Rusk County district attorney, Schaller said.

“(Department officials are) in consultation with the Rusk County district attorney’s office about the self-reported violation,” Schaller said. “Obviously the individual did something wrong, and that they misidentified a target but then they immediately and quickly took responsibility for it and self-reported it. I think there is some give and take with that mechanism.”

Schaller believes charges could be filed as early as the end of this week. “I think everybody wants to try and get this behind them,” he said.

Elk are typically at least twice as large as white-tailed deer. Elk also feature different coloration and antler shapes than deer.

Schaller described the elk as “small-antlered bulls.” He added the animals were in close proximity “in the same situation” when they were shot.

The animals were not wearing electronic collars or other distinguishable monitoring devices, according to Schaller.

Schaller said the hunter failed to adhere to one of the four primary rules of hunter safety—to be sure of the target.

“This incident emphasizes the importance of hunters knowing their target and all aspects of the four rules of firearm safety,” Schaller said.

The rules often referred to by the acronym, TAB-K, are treat every firearm as if it were loaded, always keep the muzzle in a safe direction, be sure of your target and beyond and keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

Schaller credited the hunter with doing the right thing by self-reporting the violations.

Meat from the elk was salvaged and will be donated to a food pantry or organization in the area, Schaller said.

Once widespread in Wisconsin and across North America, elk were eliminated from the state in the 1880s due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. Over 130 years later, they have been reintroduced in the central and northern forest regions of the state.

The state transferred 25 elk from Michigan to the Clam Lake area of Sawyer County as part of a reintroduction effort in 1995. A second reintroduction effort started in 2015, with elk from Kentucky, helped add to the northern herd and start a herd near Black River Falls in central Wisconsin.

With calves expected in spring 2019, the combined herds now are estimated by the state DNR at nearly 400 elk, with more than 250 animals at Clam Lake and between 75 and 80 at Black River Falls.

Elk are a protected game species in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s first managed elk hunt in state history drew strong interest last year, with over 38,400 applicants in the state drawing, and an additional 5,000 raffle tickets sold by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Nine bulls were harvested out of the 10-bull quota, including four bulls by state hunters during the 39-day hunt, and five bulls by members of the Ojibwe Tribes.

This year’s elk season concluded prior to the start of the gun deer hunting season. The 10-bull quota for 2019 was met with five bulls being harvested by state hunters and five bulls by the members of the Ojibwe Tribes. More than 23,000 Wisconsin residents submitted a $10 application in 2019 to win one of four state tags, and approximately 2,500 more purchased a raffle ticket to win the final tag from a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation drawing. This elk hunt occurred only within the Clam Lake elk range in Ashland, Bayfield, Price and Sawyer counties.

Seven dollars from each application and all raffle proceeds are earmarked specifically for elk management in Wisconsin. The 2020 elk hunt application period is anticipated to start with the new license year on March 1 and run through May 31.

It is illegal to hunt elk outside of specific hunting seasons in Wisconsin, which are Oct. 12 through Nov. 10 and again Dec. 12–20.

In addition to the accidental shootings, poachers have shot a handful of elk in Wisconsin, including a bull elk illegally killed and left to lay Sept. 14 along Hwy. 77 at Forest Road 174, about seven miles west of Clam Lake. A reward of $2,250 has been offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in that case.

Anyone with information regarding wildlife or other violations is encouraged to call the DNR’s confidential tipline at 800-TIP-WDNR (800-847-9367).

The hunter is likely to get a citation as well as be made to pay restitution for the animals. Schaller said restitution is about $2,000 for elk in Wisconsin.

The Rusk County case is the first time a hunter mistakenly killed two elk in Wisconsin, according to DNR records. Schaller described the woman as a novice with more than one year of hunting experience.

However, this week’s incidents don’t mark the first time deer hunters in Wisconsin have mistakenly shot elk.

In the 2018 gun deer season, DNR law enforcement investigated two illegal elk shootings in Monroe and Jackson counties that occurred during the nine-day gun deer season.

An adult bull elk was shot and killed last year after being misidentified by a man who was deer hunting near Warrens on Nov. 17. The individual who shot the elk self-reported the incident to the department after realizing he misidentified the elk for a deer. The elk was seized and confiscated in accordance with Wisconsin law, and all the meat will be salvaged and donated to the Jackson County Food Pantry.

The second elk, an adult cow, was shot last year in the Jackson County Forest on Nov. 19. The DNR is looking for information to help identify a suspect in that case, which is still open.

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