Although a hunt is not proposed to take place anytime soon, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission voted unanimously to remove elk from the list of species of special concern and to begin exploring the possibilities of a future hunt.

The guidelines, laid out in Thursday’s meeting, would allow for an annual hunt beginning on October 1st and running until November 1st and would be a strict, permit-only gun or archery hunt.

In 2001 the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered up to reintroduce elk to the area, specifically in the Cataloochee area when 52 elk were deposited over a two year period. Today, the population of elk is growing in the state and residents are becoming supportive of a restricted elk season.

The commission received 284 comments through public hearings and online venues and of those comments, 211 (74%) supported an elk hunt.

Although counting elk can be difficult, Great Smoky Mountain and state wildlife biologists are pegging the population of elk to fall somewhere between 140 to 160 animals, which is a number, at this point that many believe could not sustain a controlled hunt.

While the prospect of hunting elk in the state is exciting for many, Neal Hanks Jr., the commissioner for the District 9, a large portion of Western North Carolina, told the Citizen-Times in Asheville that a hunt is not expected to begin any time soon.

“It set the process in place for the commission to issue permits when the elk population is deemed to have reached a sustainable amount,” said Hanks, of Asheville. “There will be no permits issued in 2016. We directed the commission staff to work with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to get a more reliable headcount.”

H/T: Citizen-Times