Sunday, October 07, 2001

Ky. man kills 1st legal elk

Hunting resumes in limited amount

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        ROWDY, Ky. — The boom of a .50-caliber muzzleloading rifle echoed from an eastern Kentucky mountaintop shortly after dawn on Saturday — the opening day of the state's first elk hunt in more than 150 years.

        Tracy Cerise had hit his mark, and a bull with antlers more than 3 feet long tumbled to the ground.

[photo] Tracy Cerise of Lexington holds the head of a 690-pound bull elk he killed Saturday at the Addington Enterprises Wildlife Management Area.
(Associated Press photo)
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        The Lexington man became the first to kill an elk in Kentucky since the 1800s. Legally, that is.

        Poachers had beaten him to the punch, killing at least two of the animals since they were released four years ago. All they got was jail time and fines. Mr. Cerise became an instant celebrity, posing for a horde of photographers who came to document the event.

        “I can't believe I was so lucky,” said Mr. Cerise, a communications systems programmer at the University of Kentucky who has previously killed six elk in Colorado hunts. “This one is definitely my biggest.”

        Elk can weigh as much as 800 pounds. The antlers of a mature bull can measure 4 to 6 feet in length and weigh as much as 50 pounds.

        Wildlife managers began reintroducing elk to Kentucky in 1997 in 14 counties in the state's Appalachian region. The population now is about 1,300 elk, most of which were shipped from Utah, Arizona, Oregon, North Dakota and Kansas.

        Mr. Cerise's bull had a tag in its ear showing it was one of 167 of the animals brought from Utah in early 1998.

        “In five years, mark my words, a world record elk will come out of Kentucky,” Mr. Cerise said. “They can grow year-round here. They don't have to live on fat reserves during the winter like they do in Colorado. They have plenty to eat during the winter.”

        The elk have had an economic impact on the region, drawing money-spending visitors from several states to take part in tours to listen to the bugle of the big bulls, said Jon Gassett, head of the restoration effort for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. The economic impact, he said, will skyrocket when the elk population reaches levels that can sustain more hunters.

        Mr. Cerise was one of six men hunting elk on Saturday. He and three others had won the chance to shoot a bull by being randomly selected from a pool of 9,235 people. All had paid $10 each to enter a drawing to hunt on the 17,000-acre Addington Wildlife Management Area. The two other hunters purchased their permits in auctions held by private organizations that are helping with the restoration effort.

        Money from the drawing — $92,350 — will be used by wildlife managers to further increase the number of elk, Mr. Gassett said.

        Conservation officers keep close tabs on the elk, which were widespread in Kentucky in pioneer days. Hunting pushed them to extinction in the state.


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- Ky. man kills 1st legal elk