Local hunter harvests first elk in Giles Co. in more than six decades

The last elk hunted in Giles County was in 1958

GILES COUNTY, Va. – Fall 2023 is a hunting season for the history books in the New River Valley.

A Giles County man harvested an animal not seen there since 1958.

Lifelong native Wesley Woodyard hunted Giles County’s first elk in decades, an animal up until now not thought to still be in the county. Woodyard would know because, like many other avid hunters in Giles County, much of his free time is spent outdoors.

The news has been the talk of the town among hunting enthusiasts. Woodyard said he gets stopped every time he goes to the Pearisburg Walmart by someone asking him about the elk.

A Hunting Tradition in the New River Valley

10 News got an exclusive interview with Woodyard to talk about the historic hunt. We went to the Butt Mountain overlook near where the last Elk was hunted in 1958 to hear his story. Like many rural counties in the commonwealth, hunting is a family pastime in Giles County.

“Here, it’s really what we do,” said Woodyard.

He grew up hunting with his father and now shares the tradition with his kids. While he knows these woods well, he was shocked when he learned his trail cam had picked up the elk. His friend first spotted it on the camera and called him early one morning.

“I was in bed. He said, ‘Man you got to get up. There’s an elk on your camera. I was like, no way. I figured a big buck. But no, it was a big elk,” Woodyard said.

Elk history in Virginia

An opportunity to hunt elk in Giles hasn’t been seen since Woodyard’s grandfather’s time.

Woodyard said he quickly got his license and lost a lot of sleep that night.

“I didn’t know what to think. I mean, I had always dreamed about it. I would have always loved to go out west and kill one, but it’s unreal I got to do it here in my backyard,” he said. “I knew back in the day that they were in here. It started in 1917 when they first introduced them from out in Yellowstone. I never dreamed I would have this opportunity.”

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, more elk were released in Giles in 1922. By 1926, due to poor habitat and over-harvest, only two elk herds in the state remained. One of which was in Giles.

The number of Elk hunters peaked in 1958, the same year the last known elk was hunted in Giles County by a man from narrows, Hayden Blankenship.

Last Elk harvested in Giles County in 1958. Elk pictured with Hunter Hayden Blankenship of Narrows. (Blankenship family)

Woodyard found his family, who also still lived in Giles.

“I’ve actually got to talk to his son and he gave me a bunch of pictures and some articles out of the Virginia game magazines, Virginian Leader stuff. It’s been a big deal to him too. His mom was in awe that someone else got to have a part of it,” Woodyard said.

Two families are now connected through the shared love of the hunt.

Hayden Blankenship’s historic photo taken in 1958 is now proudly mounted in Woodyard’s home beside his photo taken this fall. There is also a spot reserved on the wall for the Elk Mount when it’s complete.

For Woodyard, it’s not so much about the hunt, it’s about the history of elk in Giles and the hunters who have come before him.

“So, 64 years. That’s what I thought was the coolest thing about it, was the history of it. Not so much about what I’ve done. But to have the sliver of the books has been pretty cool,” Woodyard said.

But the question remains, where did the elk come from?

State wildlife biologists took DNA samples of Wesley’s elk to find out, but suspect the young bull came from this herd in Buchanan, where 10 News showed you in 2022, the state re-established elk at a reclaimed coal mine site.

State Wildlife Biologist Jackie Rosenberger is an expert on the herd.

“We’ve got about 200 in Buchanan County. In about 50 or so down in Wise county and there are some elk that are spread out in other counties as well and southwest Virginia "

It’s likely he was pushed out of the herd by other more dominant bull elk.

It’s unlikely more are in Giles, but as this hunting season proved - it’s now possible.

“As a hunter, I hope everybody gets a chance to witness and do what I’ve gotten to do,” Woodyard said.

He is anxiously awaiting the state’s test results to find out more about his elk because as he’s found, his greatest hunting story has also sparked a love of history and shared traditions of the hunter’s who came before him.

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