October 18, 1954

Elk Down East

New Hampshire hunters must be careful not to mistake an elk for a deer


There is no buck law in New Hampshire. A hunter need only be sure that the brown patch moving through the brush is a deer before he shoots. But in Sullivan County a hunter has to be unusually sharp-eyed, for that brown patch may not be a deer; it could be an elk, the killing of which can draw a fine of $300.

New Hampshire probably is the only state east of the Mississippi that can boast a sizable herd of wild elk. There are a few small remnant herds in park and refuge areas in Pennsylvania and Virginia, but as many as 100 are thought to roam the hills of Sullivan County near the towns of Unity, Goshen, Washington, Lempster, Stoddard and Acworth in the southwestern corner of the state.

These elk are all the descendants of a band of a dozen or so cows and two bulls presented to the state in 1931 by the owners of Corbin Park, a famous private game preserve in Croydon. The original animals were released on the state-owned Pillsbury Reservation game refuge on the eastern edge of their present range. Lack of adequate fencing and the natural wandering tendencies of the species did the rest.


Just 10 years later the herd had increased to an officially estimated 200 head, and crop-damage complaints had become so numerous and heated that the Fish and Game Department declared a two-day season on elk of any size and sex. With the exception of a much earlier and more restricted special hunt in Virginia, this was the only full-scale elk shoot held in the eastern half of the nation in recent times. It was quite an affair.

Legal shooting time was set at sunrise on December 17, 1941. Fish and Game Director Ralph G. Carpenter II had issued 293 special resident permits, pulled in 21 of his conservation officers to oversee the area and crossed his fingers. There was a good tracking snow and fine visibility as the eager hunters converged on the known and suspected haunts of the elk.


"Long Tom" Currier, a famous guide and hunter and now resident-manager of the Corbin Park preserve, drew first blood by trailing a band of 20 elk to the top of a hill in Goshen and making a clean kill on a 276-pound cow. Tom, however, was not alone. Other hunters had located the range of this same band and about 30 of them were deployed along the opposite slope of the hill. As Tom ran to his kill, the surviving elk flushed from cover straight toward this line of skirmishers. There may have been more shooting at the charge of the Light Brigade, but Currier wouldn't swear to it. He dived behind the carcass of his dead elk, which outweighed him by no more than a few pounds, and crouched low while bullets cracked over his head. Fourteen elk were killed in 10 minutes on that one hill.

One hunter put four bullets into the chest of a bull, only to have another hunter drop it with a single shot from the opposite side. Another was approaching a kill with drawn belt knife when five bullets tore into the carcass at his feet. Alexander Miller of East Unity, armed with a .32 Special carbine, was charged by a wounded bull elk and dropped the animal with a head shot from less than 50 feet. Others reported various narrow escapes but no one was injured. When the echoes of the last shot died in the snowy hills, New Hampshire's elk herd had been reduced by 48 head.

Conservation Officer Jesse Scott of Newport, whose territory embraces all of the present elk range, feels that the original preseason estimate of the herd's size was high. Untrained observers tend to be awed. He told me of a farmer who reported seeing 75 in one field where a few minutes before Scott himself had counted 27. Making an accurate count of the elk in the brushy woodlands they inhabit is difficult but Scott feels that there are still at least 50 animals in his district and possibly 100.

Two or three elk are mistaken for deer and shot each season. A few years ago, four youthful hunters from Claremontkilled four elk in about as many minutes. Few of these killings appear to be intentional, and practically all of the sportsmen report their errors promptly to the authorities.

What will happen to New Hampshire's unique elk herd remains to be seen. Director Carpenter would prefer to see the herd reduced periodically by licensed hunters. The animals have increased to a point where they again are becoming a menace to farmers. Three of a herd of 21 were killed last spring in Unity after efforts to drive them from a rye field failed. Pressure is mounting for another special hunt. The Department of Fish and Game feels that it can stage a far less hectic hunt than the shoot of 1941, and that it may have to do so soon.

Until there is another season on the New Hampshire elk, every deer hunter hopes that he will not inadvertently shoot one, for the result would try any New Englander's soul—a fine of as much as $300, and all the meat confiscated by the state.


this page last revised April 21, 2018